NTSB preliminary report on PA derailment: brakes were major cause

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report regarding the August 2nd accident of a CSX train in Pennsylvania, which included the derailment of 33 cars. The accident ignited 3 hazardous materials tank cars carrying propane and molten sulfur, and resulted in the evacuation of approximately 1000 residents in a nearby town, as well as the halting of Amtrak service between Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. Among the causes being investigated is the application of the brake systems leading up to the accident. 

The report detailed the actions of two different sets of crew members:

…The first crew stopped the train on a descending grade after encountering air brake problems. The crew applied 58 hand brakes while inspecting and recharging the air brake system. The conductor of this first crew found an air leak on a railcar about 20 railcars from the rear of the train. A CSX mechanical employee arrived to repair the air leak. However, by the time this issue was resolved, the crew did not have enough remaining duty time to complete the trip. Therefore, CSX relieved them with a new train crew.

The second crew, thinking the train may still have air brake problems, kept all 58 hand brakes applied and unsuccessfully tried to pull the train down the hill. The conductor of the second crew then released the first 25 hand brakes, leaving 33 hand brakes still applied. The engineer applied a minimum air brake application and started the train with locomotive power down the grade. The train speed varied from 20 to 30 mph. The engineer switched from locomotive power to dynamic braking three times before the train derailed.

The NTSB also noted they are investigating the configuration of the train, which had five locomotives and 178 cars:

The weight of the train from the 1st railcar in the consist to the 35th, was about 1,631 tons. The weight of the remaining 143 railcars trailing the 35th railcar was about 16,621 tons. The 35th railcar from the front of the train was an empty high-sided gondola within a block of 27 empty railcars. NTSB is investigating many factors into the cause of the derailment, including the length, make-up, and operation of the train, as well as the condition of the railcars and track.

Click HERE to read the full preliminary report from the NTSB.

Click HERE to read an Associated Press article analyzing the report.



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