The National Transportation Safety Board today recommended tighter inspection procedures before loading articulated multiplatform rail cars with intermodal shipping containers.
The Safety Board's recommendations follow adoption of its final report on the derailment of a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company intermodal freight train near Crisfield, Kansas, on September 2, 1998.
The derailment resulted in a pileup involving four articulated multi-platform cars carrying intermodal shipping containers. Some of the containers were breached, resulting in the release of hazardous materials and fires. About 200 people were evacuated within a 5-mile radius. No injuries resulted from either the derailment or the hazardous materials release. Estimated damage was $1.3 million.
The Board determined that the probable cause of the accident was the structural failure of the intermodal car due to fatigue cracking initiated when a container was misloaded onto a foreign object. The misloading of the container occurred because of the railroad industry's inadequate preloading inspection procedures for double-stack well cars. Contributing to the accident was the improper and undocumented repair of the car.
The problem occurred on the 18th car from the locomotive. It was an articulated, five-platform, 125-ton double-stack car, which experienced a separation of its floor plate. The separation allowed the car to sag below the rails, catch a part of a switch, and derail.
The Board noted that current preloading inspection procedures are inadequate to ensure that foreign objects are detected on the floors of intermodal cars that have "wells" into which shipping containers are loaded.
The Board recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration:
- Require that double-stack well car floors be inspected and that all foreign objects be removed before loading.
- Audit the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and individual railroad equipment repair databases to determine whether adequate quality control procedures have been incorporated to ensure that database information is complete, accurate, and secure. Direct the Association of American Railroads and the individual railroads to correct all identified deficiencies.
- Revise 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 215 to include comprehensive safety inspection standards and procedures for all intermodal cars.
The Board recommended that Class 1 railroads require intermodal loading facilities to inspect double-stack car floors before loading and remove any foreign objects.
The NTSB asked the AAR to revise intermodal container loading and securement standards to emphasize the necessity of conducting a thorough preloading inspection of intermodal cars while empty, particularly double-stack cars, to ensure the removal of foreign objects before loading. The Board recommended that the AAR also revise its training and materials to emphasize this necessity.
The Board also asked the AAR to conduct a study to determine whether other double-stack cars similar in design to the one that failed are also susceptible to misloading and whether reinforcing them would be appropriate.
The Board's final report of the Crisfield accident and the recommendation letters may be accessed on the NTSB's web page at www.ntsb.gov. The recommendation letter numbers are R-00-09 through R-00-17.