NTSB cites fatigue, no PTC as fatal crash causes

April 25, 2012

“Fatigue,” says the National Transportation Safety Board, was “the probable cause” of rear-end accident involving two BNSF freight trains near Red Oak, Iowa, April 17, 2011, that killed a UTU-member conductor and the train’s engineer.

The NTSB concluded that the crewmembers who perished in the locomotive of the train that hit the rear of the first train were asleep at the time of the accident, “which led to their failure to comply with the signal indication requiring them to operate at a restricted speed and stop short of the standing train.”

“Once again, this investigation draws attention to the dangers of human fatigue,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “The human body is not designed to work irregular schedules, especially during the circadian trough, when our bodies are at their lowest alertness.

“Contributing to the accident was the absence of a positive train control (PTC) system that identifies the rear of a train and stops a following train if a safe braking profile is exceeded,” Hersman said. “Humans are fallible and make mistakes and operational accidents can be prevented with positive train control.”

The NTSB said that also contributing to the severity of collision damage was “the absence of crashworthiness standards for modular locomotive crew cabs.”

The fatal accident involved an eastbound BNSF coal train, which collided with the rear end of a standing BNSF maintenance-of-way equipment train on the Creston subdivision of the BNSF Nebraska Division.

Killed were conductor and UTU Local 199 Vice Local Chairperson Patricia Hyatt, and engineer Tom Anderson, both age 48.