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Accident Report Detail

Head-on collision between Iowa Interstate Railroad Extra 406 East with release of Hazardous Materials

Executive Summary

About 11 40 a m central daylight saving time on July 30, 1988, Iowa Interstate Railroad Ltd (IAIS) freight trains Extra 470 West and Extra 406 East collided head on within the yard limits of Altoona, Iowa, about 10 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa. All 5 locomotive units from both trains, 11 cars of Extra 406 East, and 3 cars, including two tank cars containing denatured alcohol, of Extra 470 West derailed. The denatured alcohol, which was released through the pressure relief valves and the manway domes of the two derailed tank cars, was ignited by the fire resulting from the collision of the locomotives. Both crewmembers of Extra 470 West were fatally injured, the two crewmembers of Extra 406 East were only slightly injured. The estimated damage (including lading) as a result of this accident exceeded $1 million.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the failure of the traincrew of Extra 406 East to comply with the wait provisions of train order 213 and Iowa Interstate Railroad's (IAIS) inadequate oversight and enforcement of its operating rules. Contributing to the traincrew's failure to comply with the wait provisions was a combination of fatigue induced by irregular work/rest schedules, preoccupation with completing their assignment prior to exceeding duty time limits, inexperience, "mental set" or expectations based on previously issued train orders, the work activities which intervened since they received the train order, and the IAIS's inadequate training of its crews. Contributing to the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration's inadequate surveillance and enforcement of compliance by the IAIS with Federal regulations. Contributing to the length of the emergency was the release and burning of hazardous materials from pressure relief valves and manways on the tank cars.

Accident Location: Altoona , IA    
Accident Date: 7/30/1988
Accident ID: DCA88MRZ06

Date Adopted: 7/6/1989
NTSB Number: RAR-89-04
NTIS Number: PB89-916304