The National Transportation Safety Board determined today that the probable cause of last year’s Amtrak train derailment in Nodaway, Iowa, was the failure of the rail beneath the train, due to undetected internal defects. Contributing to the accident was the lack of a comprehensive method of ensuring that replacement rail, known as a plug, was free from internal defects.
On March 17, 2001, westbound Amtrak train No. 5-17, carrying 241 passengers and 15 on-board employees, enroute from Chicago, Illinois, to Oakland, California, derailed near Nodaway, Iowa. Eleven of the 16 cars and two locomotives derailed. There was one fatally and 78 injuries.
During the investigation, a broken rail, at the point of derailment, was discovered. The broken rail came from a 16-foot 6-inch section of replacement rail. Post-accident metallurgical analysis of pieces of replacement rail indicated that the rail had multiple internal defects. The replacement section, which was installed in February 2001, had not been ultrasonically inspected before or after installation. Furthermore, the Safety Board concluded that, relying on scanning schedules for mainline track, as required under 49 Code of Federal Regulations 213.237, does not ensure the safety of replacement rails, which are not required to be scanned for internal defects.
As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board made the following recommendations:
To the Federal Railroad Administration:
Require railroads to conduct ultrasonic or other appropriate inspections to ensure that rail used to replace defective segments of existing rail is free from internal defects.
To all Class I and Passenger Railroads, with the exception of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation:
Conduct ultrasonic or other appropriate inspections on all rail used to replace defective segments of existing rail to ensure that the replacement rail is free from internal defects.
To the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation:
Implement a permanent policy of inspecting internal for defects, using ultrasonic or other appropriate means, any rail used to replace a defective segment of existing rail.
A synopsis of this accident report is available on the Safety Board’s website at <http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2002/RAB0201.htm>. A copy of the entire report will be available on the website in a few weeks. Paper copies of the report, when available, can be purchased from the National Technical Information Service (800) 533-NTIS.