National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board today determined the probable cause of an Amtrak passenger train derailment at Arlington, Texas, on December 20, 1998, citing:
· Track conditions that were inadequate for the speed of the train;
· The decision of the dispatcher to delay notifying track department personnel that a train crew had reported encountering rough track;
· The inadequate effort on the part of the engineer of Amtrak train No. 22 to contact the dispatcher to report the observed track defect and its location;
· The failure of the tamper operator to adequately resurface the track four days before the accident;
· Inadequate Union Pacific Railroad oversight of track maintenance work on this section of track and,
· Inadequate Union Pacific Railroad requirements for restricting train speed over track with reported rough conditions until track department personnel can assess track condition.
Amtrak train No. 21 was en route from Chicago, Illinois, to San Antonio, Texas, when it derailed on Union Pacific Railroad tracks within the Arlington city limits. The train, carrying 198 passengers and 18 crewmembers, was traveling at a reduced speed of 36 mph due to reports of rough track when three locomotives and six cars derailed on a curve. Twenty-two injuries were reported; total damages were estimated at $1.4 million.
The Board found that the reduced speed at which the train attempted to transit the area of the previously reported rough track was greater than the condition of the track could support, causing the train to derail on a curve near milepost 230.62. The Board also stated that if the engineer of an earlier train (train No. 22) had contacted the dispatcher and notified him of the track defect the crew had observed, the dispatcher might have taken action that could have prevented this accident.
Further, if the dispatcher had implemented an appropriate speed restriction and/or notified track maintenance personnel immediately after he received the report of rough track, the accident might not have occurred.
Noting that increases in sub-grade moisture under the derailment area could have caused the changes in track geometry that led to the accident, Board members concluded that, in the months leading up to the accident, the Union Pacific Railroad did not exercise adequate management oversight of its track inspection and maintenance programs on this portion of the Dallas subdivision. Procedures for ensuring the timely transmission of information regarding changes in track classification to inspection and maintenance personnel also were found to be insufficient.
The NTSB also concluded that Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) procedures were inadequate to ensure that inspectors obtained up-to-date track classification information before beginning an inspection, with the result that an FRA inspection of the accident track, on November 18, 1998, did not reveal deficiencies that would have required either corrective action or a lowering of the maximum authorized speed.
As a result of its investigation of this accident, the NTSB made a series of safety recommendations to the FRA, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, and the Union Pacific Railroad. An abstract of the investigation report, including the full texts of the conclusions, probable cause and recommendations, can be found on the Board's web site. The complete accident report will be available on the web site later this year.
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.