NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


August 5, 2003

Washington, D.C. - In a report adopted today, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of last year's the Amtrak Auto Train derailment near Crescent City, Florida, was a heat-induced track buckle that developed because of inadequate CSX Transportation track- surfacing operations. These operations included the misalignment of the curve, insufficient track restraint, and failure to reestablish an appropriate neutral rail temperature.

"The Safety Board must focus on safety on our railways," said NTSB Chairman Ellen G. Engleman. "In 2002, twice as many people died in rail related accidents than aviation related accidents. Maintenance is a critical element of the entire transportation system. The recommendations we have made from this investigation are steps closer to closing the loop toward a safe railroad industry."

The northbound Auto Train derailed 21 of 40 cars on April 18, 2002. The train, carrying 413 passengers and 33 Amtrak employees, derailed in a left-hand curve while traveling about 56 mph. The accident resulted in 4 fatalities, 36 serious injuries, and 106 minor injuries. The equipment and track costs associated with the accident totaled about $8.3 million.

Safety Board investigators noted that the track buckle that caused the derailment probably originated during the passage of a CSXT coal train over the accident curve. Track buckles may be induced or triggered by the passing of a train when the compressive dynamic forces are added to preexisting thermal forces. Once a track begins to buckle out of alignment under a train, the buckle will become progressively more severe as each wheel impacts the rail.

Furthermore, the investigators found that the track buckled because of its instability. Contributing to its instability was the roadbed width of the track on the curve embankment, the ballast condition of the track, the rail anchoring in the area, the surfacing operations undertaken by CSXT at this location, and the temperature controls used during and after the surfacing operations. These conditions led to the derailment, the report concludes.

The Board's report stated that at the time of the accident CSXT did not provide adequate requirements for ensuring effective rail anchoring and monumenting. Monumenting consists of establishing known reference points against which any subsequent movement of the track can be measured. The report also noted that CSXT failed to ensure that its track maintenance workers routinely fulfilled the requirements of its existing track standards. Therefore, the Safety Board concluded that CSXT did not provide adequate oversight to ensure that its track maintenance activities were carried out in accordance with its own standards.

As a result of its investigation, the Board made recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, CSX Transportation, Inc., and Amtrak. These include:

A summary of this report is available now on the NTSB Web site at http://www.ntsb.gov, under "Publications"; the complete report will also be posted at that location in a few weeks. Soon afterwards, printed copies will be available for purchase through the National Technical Information Service.

NTSB Media Contact:
Keith Holloway
(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.