NTSB issues safety alert on train signal visibility

railroad crossing

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Washington – The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a safety alert regarding visibility of railroad signals.

NTSB states that light-emitting diode railroad signals pose a risk of masking nearby incandescent signals, which can confuse train operators and increase the risk of collisions. If separate types of signals are installed within close proximity, NTSB said, the LED signals can appear to be brighter and closer, thereby causing crews to mistake the sequence of the signals.

NTSB officials pointed to a Sept. 22 train derailment in Galva, KS, that caused no serious injuries but led to $3.2 million in damages. An eastbound freight train collided with the rear of a westbound train near a control point three days after LED signals had started operating. The closer incandescent signal was showing red for “stop,” but it was masked by a farther LED signal displaying green for “proceed.”

NTSB offered four recommendations to help railroads avoid similar incidents:

  • Identify locations where signals are in close proximity.
  • Evaluate railroad computer-aided dispatching software.
  • Along with mandatory testing of signals, conduct hazard analyses that include measuring signal visibility with feedback from train crews.
  • Implement procedures to inform personnel of possible changes to railroad systems.