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Accident Report Detail

Hazardous Materials Railroad Accident in the Alton and Southern Gateway Yard

Executive Summary

At about 6:20 a.m., on January 22, 1972, an overspeed tank car loaded with liquid petroleum gas collided with a standing hopper car in the Alton & Southern Railroad Company's Gateway Yard in East St. Louis, Ill. In the overspeed impact, an overriding coupler on the empty freight car punctured the tank head. The pressurized propylene gas in the tank car leaked to the ground and vaporized. A large vapor cloud was formed, which ignited and exploded. More than 230 people were injured as a result of the explosion, and property damage was estimated at more than $7 1/2 million.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the overspeed impact was the failure of the retarding system in the hump classification yard to decelerate effectively heavy cars with oil or grease on their wheel rims; the absence of a backup system to halt cars passing through retarders at overspeeds; and the routine acceptance at the Gateway Yard of uncontrolled overspeeds. Propylene leaked from the tank car because the tank head was too weak to resist the impact of the overriding coupler of the hopper car. Lack of specifications that define permissible impact and adequate crash resistance was a contributing factor.

Accident Location: East St. Louis , IL    
Accident Date: 1/22/1972
Accident ID: 80176

Date Adopted: 1/31/1973
NTSB Number: RAR-73-01
NTIS Number: PB-217429

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