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Derailment of Amtrak Train 21 on the Union Pacific Railroad at Arlington, Texas on December 20, 1998
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Event Summary

Board Meeting : Derailment of Amtrak Train 21 on the Union Pacific Railroad at Arlington, Texas on December 20, 1998
7/24/2001 12:00 AM

Executive Summary

About 7:00 p.m., central standard time, on December 20, 1998, National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) train No. 21, the Texas Eagle, derailed on Union Pacific Railroad (UP) tracks within the city limits of Arlington, Texas. Train 21 was en route from Chicago, Illinois, to San Antonio, Texas. The train was traveling westbound at a reduced speed of about 36 mph due to reports of rough track near milepost 231. Three locomotives and six cars derailed in a curve at milepost 230.62. Of the 198 passengers and 18 employees on the train, 12 passengers and 10 employees were injured. No fatalities resulted from the accident. Damages were estimated at about $1.4 million.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the December 20, 1998, derailment of Amtrak train No. 21 in Arlington, Texas, was (1) track conditions that were inadequate for the speed of the train, (2) the decision of the dispatcher to delay notifying track department personnel that a train crew had reported encountering rough track, (3) the inadequate effort on the part of the engineer of Amtrak train 22 to contact the dispatcher to report the observed track defect and its location, (4) the failure of the tamper operator to adequately resurface the track 4 days before the accident, (5) inadequate Union Pacific Railroad oversight of track maintenance work on this section of track, and (6) inadequate Union Pacific Railroad requirements for restricting train speed over track with reported rough conditions until track department personnel can assess track condition.

The safety issues identified in this report are:

  • The adequacy of the UP's procedures for responding to train crews' reports of track problems;
  • The adequacy of the UP's oversight of track maintenance; and
  • The adequacy of the UP's procedures for communicating changes in track classifications.


As a result of this accident investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and the Union Pacific Railroad.


As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes safety recommendations as follows:

To the Federal Railroad Administration:

Revise your procedures to ensure that all Federal Railroad Administration track inspectors obtain current track classification documentation before they inspect a track. (R-01-12)

To the Association of American Railroads:

To the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association:

Inform your member railroads of the circumstances of the December 20, 1998, derailment in Arlington, Texas, and urge them to ensure that their rules require train dispatchers, upon receiving reports of track problems, to immediately implement an appropriate speed restriction for the affected area and to immediately notify track maintenance personnel of the reported condition. (R-01-13)

To the Union Pacific Railroad:

Revise your procedures for disseminating documentation for the current classification of track to all track inspection and maintenance employees so that up-do-date information is available to them when they inspect, repair, or maintain the track. (R-01-14)

Develop an action plan to address known subgrade problems on the Dallas subdivision. (R-01-15)

Revise your track maintenance policies and practices to establish quality control procedures for track repair and maintenance activities. These procedures should be designed to ensure that the type of maintenance to be performed is appropriate to address the specific problem and that the maintenance itself is performed correctly. (R-01-16)

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