About 10:41 p.m. eastern daylight time on Friday, October 20, 2006, Norfolk Southern Railway Company train 68QB119, en route from the Chicago, Illinois, area to Sewaren, New Jersey, derailed while crossing the Beaver River railroad bridge in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. The train consisted of a three-unit locomotive pulling 3 empty freight cars followed by 83 tank cars loaded with denatured ethanol, a flammable liquid. Twenty-three of the tank cars derailed near the east end of the bridge, with several of the cars falling into the Beaver River. Of the 23 derailed tank cars, about 20 released ethanol, which subsequently ignited and burned for about 48 hours. Some of the unburned ethanol liquid was released into the river and the surrounding soil. Homes and businesses within a seven-block area of New Brighton and in an area adjacent to the accident were evacuated for 2 days. No injuries or fatalities resulted from the accident. The Norfolk Southern Railway Company estimated total damages to be $5.8 million.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the derailment of Norfolk Southern Railway Company train 68QB119 was the Norfolk Southern Railway Company's inadequate rail inspection and maintenance program that resulted in a rail fracture from an undetected internal defect. Contributing to the accident were the Federal Railroad Administration's inadequate oversight of the internal rail inspection process and its insufficient requirements for internal rail inspection.
As a result of its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board identified the following safety issues:
- Ultrasonic rail inspection and rail defect management,
- Oversight of the internal rail inspection process and requirements for internal rail inspection, and
- The placement of hazardous materials cars in trains for crew protection.
As a result of its investigation of the October 20, 2006, derailment of Norfolk Southern train 68QB119 in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:
To the Federal Railroad Administration:
Review all railroads' internal rail defect detection procedures and require changes to those procedures as necessary to eliminate exceptions to the requirement for an uninterrupted, continuous search for rail defects. (R-08-9)
Require railroads to develop rail inspection and maintenance programs based on damage-tolerance principles, and approve those programs. Include in the requirement that railroads demonstrate how their programs will identify and remove internal defects before they reach critical size and result in catastrophic rail failures. Each program should take into account, at a minimum, accumulated tonnage, track geometry, rail surface conditions, rail head wear, rail steel specifications, track support, residual stresses in the rail, rail defect growth rates, and temperature differentials. (R-08-10)
Require that railroads use methods that accurately measure rail head wear to ensure that deformation of the head does not affect the accuracy of the measurements. (R-08-11)
Assist the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in its evaluation of the risks posed to train crews by unit trains transporting hazardous materials, determination of the optimum separation requirements between occupied locomotives and hazardous materials cars, and any resulting revision of 49 Code of Federal Regulations 174.85. (R-08-12)
To the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration:
With the assistance of the Federal Railroad Administration, evaluate the risks posed to train crews by unit trains transporting hazardous materials, determine the optimum separation requirements between occupied locomotives and hazardous materials cars, and revise 49 Code of Federal Regulations 174.85 accordingly. (R-08-13)
To the Norfolk Southern Railway Company:
Revise your ultrasonic rail inspection procedures to eliminate exceptions to the requirement for an uninterrupted, continuous search for rail defects. (R-08-14)