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Accident Report Detail

Rear-End Collision of Amtrak Passenger Train 94, The Colonial and Consolidated Rail Corporation Freight Train ENS-121, on the Northeast Corridor

Executive Summary

About 1:16 p.m., eastern standard time, on January 4, 1987, northbound Conrail train ENS - 121 departed Bay View yard at Baltimore, Maryland, on track 1. The train consisted of three diesel-electric freight locomotive units, all under power and manned by an engineer and a brakeman. Almost simultaneously, northbound Amtrak train 94 departed Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore. Train 94 consisted of two electric locomotive units, nine coaches, and three food service cars. In addition to an engineer, conductor, and three assistant conductors, there were seven Amtrak service employees and about 660 passengers on the train.

At this time, the Edgewood block station operator requested that switch 12 at Gunpow, a remote-controlled interlocking, be lined for straight through movement for train traffic on track 2, on which Amtrak train 94 was operating. The wayside signal aspects displayed for train 94 approaching Gunpow on track 2 were "clear" at both the distant (81-2) and home (2N) signal locations, and the wayside signal aspects displayed for train ENS-121 on track 1 was "approach" at distant signal 816-1 and "stop" at the home signal 1N. Automatic control systems in both trains should have displayed aspects corresponding to those of the wayside signals, except that the cab signals of train ENS-121 should have displayed a "restricting" aspect beginning 4,450 feet south of signal 1N.

About 1:30 p.m., Conrail train ENS-121 entered switch 12 onto track 2 causing the switch to realign for movement from track 1 to track 2. When train ENS-121 entered switch 12, the aspect of signal 2N for track 2 changed from "clear" to "stop." The engineer of train 94 apparently recognized that the aspect of signal 2N was "stop" and put his train into emergency braking. However, the train was traveling between 120 and 125 mph and could not be stopped before colliding with train ENS-121. The engineer and 15 passengers aboard train 94 were fatally injured; 174 other person aboard the trains received minor to serious injuries. The rear Conrail locomotive unit, both Amtrak locomotive units, and the head three passenger cars were destroyed. The middle Conrail locomotive unit was heavily damaged, and the rear nine cars of the passenger train sustained varying degrees of damage.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure, as a result of impairment from marijuana, of the engineer of Conrail train ENS-121 to stop his train in compliance with home signal 1N before it fouled track 2 at Gunpow, and the failure of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak to require and Conrail to use automatic safety backup devices on all trains on the Northeast Corridor.

Contributing to the accident were: 1) the failure of the brakeman of ENS-121 to observe signal aspects and to alert the engineer when they became restrictive; 2) the failure of the crewmembers of train ENS-121 to make the required automatic cab signals (ACS) test; 3) the muting of the ACS alerter whistle on the lead unit of train ENS-121; and 4) the inadequacies of the FRA oversight of Amtrak's and Conrail's supervision of corridor trains.

Operation of Amtrak train 94 at 125 mph, rather than its restricted speed of 105 mph, contributed to the severity of the accident.

Accident Location: Chase , MD    
Accident Date: 1/4/1987
Accident ID: DCA87MR002

Date Adopted: 1/25/1988
NTSB Number: RAR-88-01
NTIS Number: PB88-916301