About 5:46 p.m., central daylight time, on May 19, 2004, two BNSF Railway Company freight trains collided head on near Gunter, Texas. The southbound train, BNSF 6789 South, was traveling about 37 mph, and the northbound train, BNSF 6351 North, was traveling about 40 mph when the collision occurred. The trains were being operated under track warrant control rules on non-signaled single track. The collision resulted in the derailment of 5 locomotives and 28 cars. About 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel were released from the locomotives and resulted in a fire. The southbound train engineer was killed, and the southbound train conductor was airlifted to a hospital in Dallas with serious burns. The crewmembers on the northbound train were transported to a local hospital, where they were admitted. Estimated property damages exceeded $2 million.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the May 19, 2004, collision near Gunter, Texas, was the southbound train (BNSF 6789 South) crew's failure to adhere to an after-arrival track warrant requiring them to stay at Dorchester until the northbound train (BNSF 6351 North) arrived. Contributing to the accident was the BNSF Railway Company's use of after-arrival track warrant authority in non-signaled territory, and the Federal Railroad Administration's failure to prohibit the use of such authority. Also contributing to the accident was the train dispatcher's informal communications regarding planned train meeting locations.
In its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board examined the following safety issues:
- The issuance of track warrant authority that contains an after-arrival stipulation and
- The informal communication of proposed meeting locations for trains in non-signaled territory.
As a result of its investigation of this accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, the BNSF Railway Company, the Association of American Railroads, and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
As a result of its investigation of the May 19, 2004, collision between two BNSF Railway Company freight trains near Gunter, Texas, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:
To the Federal Railroad Administration:
Prohibit the use of after-arrival track warrants for train movements in dark (non-signaled) territory not equipped with a positive train control system. (R-06-10)
To the BNSF Railway Company:
Use the Gunter collision as a case study in train crew and dispatcher training and retraining to illustrate how informal communications can lead to misunderstandings and errors. (R-06-11)
Discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants for train movements in dark (non-signaled) territory not equipped with a positive train control system. (R-06-12)
To the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association:
Encourage your members to discontinue the use of after-arrival track warrants for train movements in dark (non-signaled) territory not equipped with a positive train control system. (R-06-13)
Recommendation Reclassified in This Report
To the General Code of Operating Rules Committee:
Add language to the track warrant rules to ensure that in territory not equipped with a positive train control system, track warrant authority that contains an after-arrival requirement is issued only to trains that have stopped at the location at which they will meet the opposing train.
Safety Recommendation R-03-3, previously classified "Open-Unacceptable Response," is reclassified "Closed-Reconsidered" in the "After-Arrival Track Warrants in Non-Signaled Territory" section of this report.