The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak to put an end to the use of “train approach warning” as the only method of on-track safety in areas covered by positive train control (PTC).
The NTSB said using TAW instead of available protections provided by advanced positive train control systems, Amtrak circumvented important PTC safety features that could help prevent rail worker deaths.
The safety recommendations issued in Railroad Accident Report 21/02, are based on an April 24, 2018, accident. An Amtrak rail watchman was killed in Bowie, Md.
The NTSB said that Amtrak’s insufficient site-specific safety work plan for the Bowie project did not adequately consider the challenges of multiple main tracks in a high-noise environment.
The watchman was focused on the movement of a southbound MARC commuter train when he was struck from behind by a high-speed northbound Amtrak train.
The NTSB said PTC could have been used to enforce speed restrictions. This would have automatically reduced the speed of trains in the work zone. The company also said PTC could have been used to prevent trains from even entering the work zone.
According to the latest FRA data, there have been 459 employee on-duty fatalities since 1997.
“More action needs to be taken to protect train crews, maintenance-of-way employees, and mechanical workers from getting killed or injured,” said Thomas Chapman, NTSB board member Thomas Chapman. “We have found from our investigations that many of these accidents are, tragically, preventable.”
The recommendation issued by the NTSB to the FRA and Amtrak address safety issues, including inadequate site safety risk assessment, unsafe train speeds in work zones, the failure to use PTC to protect roadway workers, and ineffective roadway worker protection.
In a letter sent to the leaders of the nation’s Class I Railroads and Amtrak, NTSB chair Jennifer L. Homendy said the continued use of TAW circumvents the protections that would be provided by PTC in controlled track territory.
“In short, the decades of funding, research, equipment, and training you have put into the implementation of PTC is being undone by the continued use of TAW,” Homendy said. “The continued use of TAW as a method of on-track safety is a deadly risk that your roadway workers cannot be asked to bear.”