Railroad Special Investigation Report - Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District Railroad Safety Assessment

NTSB Number: SIR-99-03
NTIS Number: PB99-917004
Adopted November 28, 2000
PDF

Summary

About 4:31 a.m. central daylight time on June 18, 1998, a westbound Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) two-car passenger train struck the second semitrailer of a long combination vehicle (LCV) that consisted of a tractor pulling two flatbed semitrailers loaded with steel coils at a grade crossing near Portage, Indiana. When the vehicles collided, the second semitrailer broke away from the first semitrailer and was dragged by the front of the NICTD train while the chain securing a steel coil to the second semitrailer broke. The released steel coil entered the first train car through the front bulkhead and moved into the passenger compartment. Three fatalities and five minor injuries resulted from the accident.

In a June 18, 1998, letter to National Transportation Safety Board Chairman James Hall, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar and U.S. Congressman Peter J. Visclosky cited three previous accidents that had involved the NICTD system and expressed concern about NICTD's long-term safe operation. (See appendix A.) The Safety Board reviewed the accident history of the NICTD system and determined that, given the series of incidents experienced on the NICTD line, an evaluation of NICTD's overall safety should be conducted.

The Safety Board conducted a special investigation that examined the following safety issues:

  • Safety of NICTD grade crossings
  • Implementation of the NICTD System Safety Program Plan, and
  • Effectiveness of the NICTD corporate safety culture

The intent of this special investigation was not to determine whether NICTD is a "safe" or "unsafe" railroad but to examine those elements of its overall operation known to affect safety and to indicate where improvements could be made in these areas. The Safety Board recognizes that factors not examined in this investigation may also affect NICTD safety, either positively or negatively. As a result of its special investigation, the Safety Board makes safety recommendations to NICTD, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), and the Boards of Commissioners of Indiana's Lake, LaPorte, Porter, and St. Joseph Counties.

Recommendations

As a result of this special investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:

To the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District:

Work with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Indiana Department of Transportation to develop and implement a strategic plan to improve safety at Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District highway-rail grade crossings. (R-99-37)

Work with the Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana's Lake, Porter, LaPorte, and St. Joseph Counties to install stop signs at all your passive grade crossings, unless a traffic engineering analysis determines that installation of stop signs would reduce the safety of the crossing. Any Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District crossings at which conditions are such that the installation of stop signs would reduce the level of safety should be upgraded with active warning devices or eliminated. (R-99-38)

Immediately and fully implement your System Safety Program Plan, as required by the Federal Railroad Administration under Emergency Order No. 20, dated February 20, 1996. (R-99-39)

Provide any individual holding the office of director of safety and training with appropriate training, including instruction on the functions, development, and implementation of System Safety Program Plans. (R-99-40)

Elevate the position of director of safety and training to the departmenthead level and require that the director of safety and training report directly to the general manager. (R-99-41)

Complete the conversion or elimination of signal control line circuits within 2 years. (R-99-42)

Revise your near-miss program to provide closure with individuals reporting violations. (R-99-43)

Develop training procedures and drills, in conjunction with local emergency response agencies, that address conducting emergency responses in all types of geographical conditions. (R-99-44)

Engage an independent safety auditing organization to conduct a comprehensive safety audit of Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District operations. (R-99-45)

To the Indiana Department of Transportation:

Work with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District to develop and implement a strategic plan to improve safety at Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District highway-rail grade crossings. (R-99-46)

Assist the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District in upgrading all 8-inch crossing signal light units on its territory. (R-99-47)

Work with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and Indiana's Lake, Porter, LaPorte, and St. Joseph Counties to install stop signs at all Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District passive grade crossings, unless a traffic engineering analysis determines that installation of stop signs would reduce the safety of the crossing. Any Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District crossings at which conditions are such that the installation of stop signs would reduce the level of safety should be upgraded with active warning devices or eliminated. (R-99-48)

To the Lake County, Indiana, Board of Commissioners:

Work with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Indiana Department of Transportation to install stop signs at all Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District passive grade crossings in your county, unless a traffic engineering analysis determines that installation of stop signs would reduce the safety of the crossing. Any Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District crossings at which conditions are such that the installation of stop signs would reduce the level of safety should be upgraded with active warning devices or eliminated. (R-99-49)

To the Porter County, Indiana, Board of Commissioners:

Work with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Indiana Department of Transportation to install stop signs at all Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District passive grade crossings in your county, unless a traffic engineering analysis determines that installation of stop signs would reduce the safety of the crossing. Any Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District crossings at which conditions are such that the installation of stop signs would reduce the level of safety should be upgraded with active warning devices or eliminated. (R-99-50)

To the LaPorte County, Indiana, Board of Commissioners:

Work with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Indiana Department of Transportation to install stop signs at all Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District passive grade crossings in your county, unless a traffic engineering analysis determines that installation of stop signs would reduce the safety of the crossing. Any Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District crossings at which conditions are such that the installation of stop signs would reduce the level of safety should be upgraded with active warning devices or eliminated. (R-99-51)

To the St. Joseph County, Indiana, Board of Commissioners:

Work with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and the Indiana Department of Transportation to install stop signs at all Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District passive grade crossings in your county, unless a traffic engineering analysis determines that installation of stop signs would reduce the safety of the crossing. Any Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District crossings at which conditions are such that the installation of stop signs would reduce the level of safety should be upgraded with active warning devices or eliminated. (R-99-52)