Railroad Accident Brief - Derailment of Amtrak Passenger Train No. 27

Home Valley, Washington
April 3, 2005

NTSB Number: RAB-06-03
Adopted October 18, 2006
PDF

The Accident

On April 3, 2005, about 9:35 a.m., westbound Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation) passenger train No. 27, consisting of a single locomotive unit and four passenger cars, derailed at milepost (MP) 58.56 2 on the BNSF Railway Company's (BNSF's) Northwest Division. The train was traveling 60 mph on single main line track when it derailed as it was traveling through a cut section of the Columbia River Gorge on the north side of the Columbia River near Home Valley, Washington. The train remained upright; however, the cars came to rest leaning up to approximately 35° against the outside curved embankment. (See figure 1.) There were 106 passengers and 9 Amtrak employees on board. Thirty people (22 passengers and 8 employees) sustained minor injuries; 14 of those people were taken to local hospitals. Two of the injured passengers were kept overnight for further observation; the rest were released. Track and equipment damages, in addition to clearing costs associated with the accident, totaled about $854,000.

The derailment occurred during daylight hours. The weather was cloudy with mist and intermittent rain. The temperature was about 45° F with 8 mph southeast winds.

On the day of the accident, westbound Amtrak passenger train No. 27 was scheduled to travel from Pasco, Washington, to Portland, Oregon, a distance of about 232 miles. The engineer performed a running air brake test at 6:35 a.m. before departing Pasco. The engineer noted nothing remarkable during the test.

There were three crewmembers on Amtrak passenger train No. 27-an engineer, a conductor, and an assistant conductor-and all three stated that the trip was uneventful as the train approached the accident area. The engineer was operating the train on a clear signal indication at a recorded speed of 60 mph. A hot box/dragging equipment detector 3 was also located near the wayside signal, and no train defects were recorded or transmitted by radio to the train crewmembers. As the train approached the accident site, the engineer was seated at the controls on the right (north) side of the locomotive. The conductor and assistant conductor were riding in the coach cars. The conductor was attending to paperwork, and the assistant conductor was monitoring the train radio transmissions.

The Amtrak train traversed about 1 1/4 miles of straight (tangent) track before it entered a 3° left-hand curve and derailed. The engineer stated that he first became aware of the derailment when an emergency brake application occurred that he had not initiated. The conductors and passengers stated that they became aware of the derailment when they were thrown around and jostled in the coach cars, followed by clouds of dirt and debris entering the cars.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the April 3, 2005, derailment of Amtrak passenger train No. 27 near Home Valley, Washington, was the BNSF Railway Company's inadequate response to multiple reports of rough track conditions that were subsequently attributed to excessive concrete crosstie abrasion, which allowed the outer rail to rotate outward and create a wide gage track condition. Contributing to the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration's failure to provide adequate track safety standards for concrete crossties.

Recommendations

As a result of its investigation of the April 3, 2005, Amtrak train derailment near Home Valley, Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board made the safety recommendations listed below. For more information about these recommendations, see the safety recommendation letters 27 to the recipients.

To the Federal Railroad Administration:

Extend to all classes of track safety standards for concrete crossties that address at a minimum the following: limits for rail seat abrasion, concrete crosstie pad wear limits, missing or broken rail fasteners, loss of appropriate toeload pressure, improper fastener configurations, and excessive lateral rail movement. (R-06-19)

To the BNSF Railway Company:

As part of your track inspector audit program, determine whether inspectors are provided adequate track time to perform their duties, and take corrective action if necessary. (R-06-20)

To the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association:

Using the circumstances of the April 3, 2005, accident near Home Valley, Washington, emphasize to your members through your publications, web site, and conferences, as appropriate, the need to establish inspection guidelines for track inspectors that address the problems and characteristics unique to concrete crossties for all classes of track. As your members develop these guidelines, encourage them to consider the elements in 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 213, "Track Safety Standards," for concrete crossties for Classes of Track 6 and higher. (R-06-21)

To the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association:

Using the circumstances of the April 3, 2005, accident near Home Valley, Washington, emphasize to your railroad members through your publications, web site, and conferences, as appropriate, the need to establish inspection guidelines for track inspectors that address the problems and characteristics unique to concrete crossties for all classes of track. As your railroad members develop these guidelines, encourage them to consider the elements in 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 213, "Track Safety Standards," for concrete crossties for Classes of Track 6 and higher. (R-06-22)