In a report adopted today, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the engineer of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) coal train was distracted by a cell phone call when he was supposed to be stopping his train and caused a head-on collision with a BNSF intermodal train. The engineer of the intermodal train was killed in the collision. Damages to the trains and track exceeded $8 million.
The Safety Board cited the probable cause in its report on a May 28, 2002 collision of an eastbound BNSF coal train and a westbound BNSF intermodal train near Clarendon, Texas. Also noted in the probable cause was the train conductor's failure to ensure that the engineer complied with track warrant restrictions.
The two trains were operating in track warrant territory where dispatchers control train movements by issuing track warrants authorizing a train to occupy a certain section of track. The track warrant issued to the eastbound coal train was an after-arrival warrant requiring the train to stop at a specified point and wait for the westbound intermodal train to clear the track ahead.
Through its investigation the Safety Board determined that the coal train engineer was talking on his cell phone when his train passed the stopping point indicated in the track warrant. The Board concluded that the engineer's cell phone use likely distracted him and he did not take proper note of the after-arrival stipulation and therefore did not stop his train.
As a result the Board issued a recommendation to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to amend regulations to control the use of cell phones and other personal wireless devices by railroad operators while on duty. "Safety is the primary responsibility of any vehicle operator and this responsibility demands the full and undivided attention of the person at the controls," said Chairman Ellen Engleman when reading the Board's recommendation, "Issuing these recommendations is not enough - implementation is the key."
The Board's report further concluded that after- arrival warrants issued to moving trains create an unacceptable risk of a head-on collision. Therefore the Board recommended that the FRA, in areas where there is no positive train control system, restrict the issuance of after-arrival track warrants to trains only after they have stopped at the specified location to allow safe passage of the on-coming train.
A synopsis of the Clarendon, Texas accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations, can be found on the Publications page of the Board's web site, http://www.ntsb.gov. The complete report will be available in about six weeks.