On January 17, 2017, about 10:09 a.m. mountain standard time, BNSF Railway westbound train E DOLEBM0 01E, traveling at 35 mph, struck and killed two roadway workers, including the watchman/lookout. The accident occurred at milepost 477, on the Black Hills subdivision, in Edgemont, South Dakota. The three-member roadway work group had been cleaning snow and ice from the track switch on the main track to prepare for the movement of a train that was to have its air brake system tested in a stationary test on the main track. The crew of the striking train sounded the train horn and bell, and both members of the train crew applied emergency braking; however, there was no response from the roadway work group, and the train was unable to stop before reaching the work location. At the time of the accident, the sky was clear, the wind was calm, and reported temperatures ranged from 13° to 18°F.
The accident occurred in the west leg of the Deadwood wye switch. Train movements on the main tracks in this area are controlled by centralized traffic control and governed by operating rules, general orders, timetable instructions, and the signal indications of an absolute block system.
The Black Hills subdivision consisted of two main tracks. The maximum operating speed was 35 mph between milepost 476.1 and milepost 477.0 on both main tracks. About 20 eastbound and 20 westbound trains per day operated on the main tracks through the accident area. There were multiple main tracks in this area with eastbound trains typically operating on main track 2 and westbound trains operating on main track 1.
The probable cause of the accident was the improper use of train approach warning by the BNSF Railway roadway work group to provide on-track safety. Contributing to the accident was incorrect information provided in the job briefing, including a miscalculated sight-distance assessment. Also contributing to the accident was the failure of BNSF Railway to provide the watchman/lookout with the necessary equipment to alert the work group of oncoming trains and equipment. Further contributing to the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration’s inconsistent enforcement of federal regulations requiring that railroads equip watchman/lookouts.
We made recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration and to BNSF Railway.