NTSB ready to close case on deadly New Mexico crash

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BNSF Railway and Ferromex units from a 2015 crash shown after they hit a parked Southwestern Railroad local parked at a siding. The short line's locomotive are obscured by derailed hoppers. National Transportation Safety Board documents released this week show that the train crew of the Southwestern Railroad may have left a siding switch open in unsignaled territory.
William P. Diven
WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board next month plans to report the probable cause of a fatal collision between two freight trains in New Mexico that happened nearly three years ago.

The April 28, 2015, crash on the Southwestern Railroad at Chisum, N.M., killed an engineer and seriously injured a conductor. They were aboard a westbound freight when it swerved off the main line and into the locomotives of a local parked on a siding 12 miles south of Roswell, N.M.

Previously released details bear striking similarities to what is known about Sunday’s collision between an Amtrak train and a parked CSX Transportation freight in South Carolina. Both involve dispatching by track warrants and hand-thrown switches left in reverse position on a main line in the face of approaching trains.

The crash at Cayce, S.C., killed an Amtrak engineer and conductor and injured more than 100 of the 139 passengers and six other Amtrak personnel.

The NTSB board is scheduled to release its findings on the Chisum crash in Washington on March 13. The board also will make safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar accidents in the future, according to the announcement of the meeting.

While the official determination is pending, NTSB documents made public in June 2016 indicated the crew of the eastbound local backed their short consist into Chisum siding and apparently failed to restore the switch to its normal position. They had been off duty 45 minutes and had left Chisum by the time the westbound crew arrived at about 6:45 a.m., anticipating a clear track.

A Federal Railroad Administration investigation of the short line following a fatal 2013 runaway on a mine spur of the railroad’s separate line in western New Mexico also looked at the Clovis-Carlsbad line. The investigation resulted in violations and heavy criticism of the safety culture of the Southwestern.

BNSF Railway later terminated its lease with the Southwestern Railroad and resumed control of the Clovis-Roswell-Carlsbad line in January 2017.

This week’s crash in South Carolina involved Amtrak’s New York-to-Miami Silver Star and a CSX freight standing on a siding at Cayce across the main from a vehicle-distribution center operated by a CSX subsidiary.

While the Southwestern crash occurred in dark, or unsignaled, territory, the CSX line had signals taken out of service for upgrading to positive train control. That required the CSX dispatchers to treat the line as dark territory issuing track authority to each train for operating over specific sections of the line.

Additionally, the two-man CSX crew had to reverse the hand-thrown main line switch to back their train of empty auto racks into the siding. After the crash, that switch was found “lined and locked” for the siding, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the day after the crash.

The Amtrak engineer and a conductor apparently died in the cab of the Silver Star while the Southwestern crewmen both had time to jump from their locomotive before impact. The engineer was found dead in the crash debris.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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