The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) today released the following preliminary information as part of its ongoing investigation into a rear end collision between two BNSF Railway trains.
On Sunday April 17, 2011 at approximately 6:55 a.m. (CDT) an eastbound BNSF coal train collided with the rear end of a standing BNSF maintenance of way equipment train near Red Oak, Iowa. The accident, which resulted in the death of two railway workers, occurred at milepost 448.3 on the number two track on the Creston subdivision of the BNSF Nebraska Division.
The coal train, designated as C-BTMCNM0-26A, BNSF 9159 East, consisted of 130 loaded coal cars. It weighed 18,529 tons and was 7,122 feet long with two locomotives on the head end and one locomotive on the rear end.
The maintenance of way equipment train, designated as U-BRGCRI5-15G, BNSF 9470 East, consisted of 21 loaded cars and 13 empty cars. It weighed 2,635 tons and was 3,170 feet long with one locomotive on the head end.
As a result of the collision, the two lead locomotives of the coal train along with the first two coal cars derailed. Seven additional coal cars were damaged in the accident and following the collision, the cab of the lead locomotive caught fire. Both the engineer and conductor in the lead locomotive of the coal train were fatally injured.
With regard to the standing maintenance of way equipment train, nine cars were derailed due to the collision. The two crew members on the locomotive of the maintenance of way equipment train were not injured.
The event recorder and forward facing video camera on the leading locomotive of the coal train were damaged in the collision and subsequent fire. Both recorders were retrieved and are being analyzed at the NTSB's lab in Washington, DC. The video camera was too badly damaged to retrieve data. A preliminary review of the locomotive event recorder data indicates that just before the collision, train speed increased and the throttle was decreased as the train reached the top of a hill west of the accident site. The data also indicates that the speed at impact was 23 mph and that the emergency brakes were not applied before impact.
During the on-scene investigation, NTSB investigators tested the signal system and the undamaged coal cars. The equipment satisfactorily met test criteria. Trains in this area operate on wayside signal indications visible to the crew. Signal system data indicate that the last signal encountered by the coal train was set at "restricting." This indication required that the train be prepared to stop short of another train.
The crew of the struck train reported that visibility at the time of the collision was good. Investigators conducted sight distance observations under similar daylight and weather conditions. The observers were able to identify the standing train about 1,376 feet from the point of collision.
As the investigation continues, investigators will review personnel, maintenance and various other records. In addition, crew cell phone records have been subpoenaed and will be reviewed by investigators.
Finally, the NTSB has formed a work group which will examine the crash performance of the leading locomotive where crew members were fatally injured.
Parties to this investigation are the Federal Railroad Administration, the BNSF railroad, Electro Motive Diesel (the manufacturer of the lead locomotive), the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the United Transportation Union.