The National Transportation Safety Board released two preliminary reports Monday that describe the events surrounding two separate incidents involving Norfolk Southern trains.

Investigations into both incidents are ongoing, the agency said.

For one incident involving a derailment of an NS train on March 9 in Alabama, NTSB said that as it continues to investigate the focus will be on the railroad’s communication, maintenance and inspection practices, as well as locomotive/rail car positioning and train handling.

In the March 9 incident, two locomotives and 37 rail cars on a westbound NS train derailed at about 6:19 a.m. CST. Two sections of the train derailed, including three tank cars that remained intact and did not release hazardous materials. 

NTSB noted that of the six locomotives overall on the train, two were waybill locomotives and not equipped with alignment-control couplers. Waybill locomotives are transported along with the train, and alignment-control couplers help resist lateral coupler movement under compressive in-train forces. NS prohibits coupling locomotives without these alignment-control couplers, and an inspection conducted before the incident did not indicate their absence. 

NS estimates damages from the derailment at about $2.9 million. The crew consisted of one engineer and one conductor, and there were no reported fatalities or injuries, according to NTSB. Also involved in the investigation are the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA); Alabama Public Service Commission; NS; International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; and Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way – Employes Division.

The second incident occurred March 7 when  an NS conductor was killed at about 1:08 a.m. EST when his train collided with a dump truck as they simultaneously entered a private highway-rail grade crossing at a Cleveland-Cliffs facility in Cleveland.

According to NTSB, the NS conductor was riding on the end platform of the lead rail car during a shoving movement when he was pinned between the rail car and dump truck. The truck, which was hauling rock, had stopped at the grade crossing before proceeding through it. The train was traveling at 9 mph, which was 1 mph below the maximum authorized speed of 10 mph.

NS and TMS International, the truck owner, estimated total equipment damages to be about $42,000. 

As NTSB continues to look into what happened, it said it will focus on industry-wide operational rules for conductors riding equipment through highway-rail grade crossings and Cleveland-Cliffs’ methods of protection at private grade crossings. 

NTSB said FRA released a safety advisory on March 16 in response to the incident. The advisory discusses the importance of proper training, oversight, job briefings and crew communication at rail crossings. 

Besides NS and Cleveland Cliffs, others involved in the investigation include FRA; Occupational Safety and Health Administration; BLET; SMART; and TMS International.

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Related links:

NTSB and FRA to scrutinize Norfolk Southern’s ‘safety culture’

Norfolk Southern conductor killed in crash in Cleveland

Norfolk Southern will assess use of hot box detectors

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