NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on NS Engineer Fatality

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Overhead diagram of the accident. (NTSB)

Overhead diagram of the accident. (NTSB)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report for its ongoing investigation of the Jan. 31, 2024, accident involving a Norfolk Southern (NS) engineer who was fatally injured while performing switching operations when the lead locomotive he was operating was struck by rolling railcars in the Class I’s Decatur Yard in Decatur, Ala.

According to the report, “the locomotive was occupying the lead track at the west end of the yard and shoving railcars onto yard track 10 when 35 railcars of train A80 rolled west along yard track 7 from the east end of the yard.

“The 35 railcars fouled the lead track and raked along the side of the lead locomotive, striking the engineer’s operating cab. The impact caused severe damage to the locomotive’s cab. The brakeman of train A08 found the engineer about 65 feet from the point of impact between yard tracks 7 and 8. The engineer was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced deceased. NS estimated damages to equipment to be about $61,500. Visibility conditions at the time of the accident were daylight and clear; the weather was 48°F with no precipitation.”

​On the day of the accident, two NS crews were performing switching operations in Decatur Yard. The crew of train A80 was operating at the east end of the yard and the crew of train A08 was operating at the west end of the yard, according to the report.

The crew of train A80 consisted of an engineer, a conductor and a conductor trainee. Shortly before the accident, the crew picked up a block of railcars from yard track 7, leaving 35 railcars behind. The crew of train A08 consisted of an engineer, a conductor and a brakeman. At the time of the accident, the crew of train A08 was using two locomotives to shove 18 railcars from the lead track onto yard track 10. Immediately before the accident, the brakeman saw the 35 railcars of train A80 rolling west toward the lead track. The brakeman radioed the engineer to warn him about the rolling block of railcars. The engineer heard the brakeman’s warning and continued the shoving movement in an attempt to avoid the approaching railcars but was unable to clear the lead track. The 35 railcars rolled about 900 feet and struck the lead locomotive about 30 seconds after the brakeman’s warning.

While on scene, NTSB investigators “inspected the tracks, examined the involved equipment, conducted sight distance observations, reviewed data from locomotive event recorders, reviewed recordings of radio communications, conducted a reenactment of the accident, and completed interviews.”

As a result of this accident, on Feb. 2, 2024, NS issued a “Serious Incident Notice” advising employees to “conduct job briefings to evaluate hazards, review hand brake requirements for unattended on-track equipment and follow safety instructions during switching operations.”

On Feb. 14, 2024, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued “Safety Bulletin 2024-01 (Revised): Employee Fatality—Securement of Rolling Equipment,” advising railroads to “provide adequate training on the importance of securing rolling equipment and advising railroad employees to comply with the rules and procedures for securing rolling equipment.

NTSB, whose investigation is ongoing, says future investigative activities will focus on the securement of unattended equipment in Decatur Yard and NS’s safety training for switching operations.

Parties to the investigation include FRA; NS; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART); and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).

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