National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The operating crewmen on a Conrail freight train failed to comply with a restrictive signal indication, resulting in their train rear-ending another Conrail freight train. The derailed equipment from those two trains fouled the adjacent track on which a third freight train was passing, derailing some of its equipment as well. That is the finding of the National Transportation Safety Board in a final report adopted today.
At about 2:00 a.m. on January 17, 1999, three Conrail freight trains were involved in an accident while operating in fog on a double main track near Bryan, Ohio. One westbound train struck the rear of another, slower moving westbound train. The collision caused the derailment of the three locomotive units and the first 13 cars of the striking train, along with the last three cars of the struck train. The derailed equipment fouled the adjacent track upon which an eastbound freight train was traveling. The impact caused 18 cars of that train to derail. The two crewmen at the head end of the striking train were killed.
The Safety Board determined the probable cause of the accident to be the failure of the crew of the striking westbound train to comply with restrictive signal indications while operating at or near maximum authorized speed in dense fog. Contributing to the accident was the lack of uniformity and consistency in the operating practices of Conrail train crews when they encountered conditions of reduced visibility. Also contributing to the accident was the lack of a backup safety system that would have helped alert the crewmembers of the striking westbound train to the restrictive signal indications.
The Board noted that, although there were reports that fog had reduced visibility to 10 to 15 feet in the area of the collision, the striking train continued to operate near maximum authorized speed and was going 56 miles per hour when it collided with the slower moving train ahead of it. The Board calculated that the crew had less than a quarter of a second to see the signal, which directed the train to stop and proceed at a speed that would allow it to stop in half the distance the crew could see in advance of the train. In post-accident tests, the signals were found to have operated as designed.
Three recommendations were issued by the Board as a result of this accident - to Class I railroads, to railroad unions and railroad associations - emphasizing the criticality of crews complying with operating rules in conditions of reduced visibility.
A copy of the Board's report will appear on its web page, www.ntsb.gov, in a few weeks.
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.