June 17, 2015 Edition

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Hoxie train crash leads to
safety recommendations

A letter to the Federal Rail Administration regarding urgent safety recommendations based on findings from the August 2014 train derailment in Hoxie has been released.

The accident occurred on Aug. 17, 2014, when a southbound train collided with a northbound train causing both to derail. The engineer and conductor from the southbound train were killed in the collision, and those in the northbound train sustained serious injuries.

Prepared by the National Transportation Safety Board, the safety recommendation letter urges precautions when using automated inputs with locomotives equipped with electronic alertness devices.

According to the letter, the alerter receives inputs from various locomotive systems that determine engineer activity. After a period of time without activity, the alerter will provide visual and audible alarms and eventually initiate the brakes on the train.

However, findings show that the southbound train had its horn sequencer active during the time prior to the crash, which caused the alerter to never activate.

The horn sequencer sounds the horn cadence used at highway crossings. Based on data collected from the southbound train, the horn sequencer was active for a four-minute period before the accident.

The configuration of the horn sequencer on the locomotive prevented the alerter from activating and initiating brake application at least three times before the collision, according to the letter.

"Although the Hoxie accident investigation is ongoing, we are concerned about automatic locomotive control systems that prevent the operation of the alerter," Christopher A. Hart, acting chairman of the NTSB wrote.

"We believe that if the alerter had not been repeatedly reset, it would have alarmed in the minutes before the collision with visual and audible alarms and a penalty brake initiation had the engineer not responded. Although we cannot determine whether an alerter activation would have prevented the Hoxie collision, had the alerter alarmed during the minutes leading up to the collision, it would have provided an opportunity to prevent or mitigate this accident."

NTSB issued urgent recommendations to address all automatic systems to prevent them from resetting the alerter and to notify railroads of the circumstances of this accident.

These recommendations were also issued to the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and the American Public Transportation Association.

The full letter can be read online at www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-recs/recletters/R-15-004-005.pdf.

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