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Accident Report Detail

Derailment of Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Train No. 120

Executive Summary

At 1:25 p.m., on May 31, 1982, northbound Seaboard Coast Line (SCL) freight train No. 120 derailed at the Swift Creek Bridge in Colonial Heights. Virginia, following a hard run in of slack which occurred when the train transited a change in grades. The train was classified as restricted by SCL timetable designation with a maximum authorized speed of 50 mph. The engineer stated the train speed was 45 mph at the time of derailment; however, tests conducted following the accident indicate that the train speed was 64 mph when the train derailed. Cars No. 89 through No. 118 derailed. A tank car was breached in the derailment, and its contents were released and immediately ignited. No crewmembers were injured as a result of the accident, but 12 firefighters and a state emergency official collapsed during firefighting operations. Erroneous and conflicting information concerning hazardous material on the train caused confusion and resulted in misdirected emergency response efforts.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of the engineer of train No. 120 to control the slack action of the train as it transited a change in grade. Contributing to the accident was the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad's allowing an engineer who was known to be deficient in train handling skills to operate the train. Contributing to the severity of the fire and to the ineffectiveness of the emergency response was inadequate training of railroad operating personnel and onscene railroad management.

Accident Location: Colonial Heights , VA    
Accident Date: 5/31/1982
Accident ID: DCA82AR013

Date Adopted: 5/3/1983
NTSB Number: RAR-83-04
NTIS Number: PB83-916304

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