CSX, Amtrak tell hearing of operating changes since fatal 'Silver Star' collision

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WASHINGTON — Amtrak and CSX Transportation said during a federal hearing that they have new procedures in place to deal with the sort of temporary signal outage that contributed to the fatal Feb. 4 collision of Amtrak’s Silver Star in South Carolina.

That accident, which saw the southbound Silver Star hit a CSX freight parked on a siding in Cayce, S.C., because of a misaligned switch, was the one of the topics of a two-day National Transportation Safety Board hearing that concluded Wednesday. The hearing also looked into the fatal Dec. 19, 2017 derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train in DuPont, Wash. The NTSB will release reports on both accidents later this year, addressing probable cause and recommending actions to prevent their recurrence.

The Cayce accident killed the Amtrak engineer and conductor, and injured 92 passengers along with two crewmen on the CSX train. [See “Misaligned switch directed ‘Silver Star’ into parked CSX auto rack train,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 4, 2018.] It occurred when the signaling system on CSX’s Columbia Subdivision was temporarily suspended to allow for the installation of positive train control equipment. In such temporary “dark” (unsignaled) territory, CSX signal department employees will now be involved with every mainline switch move, and Amtrak engineers will slow their trains to restricted speed, generally not more than 15 mph, when approaching facing-point switches.

Such signalling “cutovers” have increased sharply since 2008 to allow for PTC installation, explained Jason Schroeder, CSX assistant chief engineer for signaling. During cutovers, trains are governed by track warrant control.

During cutovers, CSX has taken additional safety moves including enhanced job briefings for crews and dispatchers and reduced train traffic. The new switch protocol requires signal department personnel to be present to lock, unlock, or move any mainline switch during a signal suspension, and at least two employees from at least two departments to work together to verify switch positions. It has also made some changes in operating rules regarding track-warrant operations.

Amtrak, meanwhile, has instructed its operating employees that they are empowered to stop a train when an unsafe condition exists. The restricted-speed rule for facing-point switches allows engineers sufficient time to stop if they observe a switch that is not properly lined, an action which exceeds the requirement of host-railroad rulebooks.

“Each mitigation [Amtrak has] applied has been more restrictive than host railroad practice,” said Justin Meko, Amtrak vice president for safety compliance and training. “We can no longer simply rely on the host railroad’s rulebook and must augment host practices in ways that meaningfully enhance safety.” The passenger carrier’s ongoing effort to implement a company-wide Safety Management System, a top priority of President and CEO Richard Anderson, have taken on increased urgency, Meko added.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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