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Safe railroad operations during temporary signal suspensions: FRA seeking input on draft advisory

train signal
Photo: yipengge/iStockphoto

Washington — The Federal Railroad Administration intends to issue a safety advisory regarding railroad operations during temporary signal suspensions and is seeking public comment on a draft.

The advisory, according to a notice published in the April 23 Federal Register, would identify best practices railroads can use in such situations, as well as recommendations for developing and implementing safe procedures.

FRA cites recent incidents involving temporary signal suspension. In an incident that occurred Feb. 4, a conductor and engineer were killed and 115 passengers were injured when their train collided head-on with a stationary freight train in Cayce, SC. A misaligned switch was the cause of the diversion from the main track that led to the collision. “Signal personnel had suspended the signal system for the area where the accident occurred to upgrade the system with positive train control technology,” the notice states. “Signal personnel had stopped working for the day at the time of the accident, yet the temporary signal suspension remained in place.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that FRA deliver an emergency order advising railroads to mandate that train crews approach switches at restricted speed when signal suspensions are in effect and a switch has been reported relined for a main track.

FRA reviewed the suspended signal operations best practices of several railroads and highlighted these practices:

  • Ensure enough personnel is present to finish the signal work or suspend signal work until adequately staffed.
  • If a railroad lets trains through suspension limits, make limits as small as possible.
  • Minimize the length of the suspension – ideally no more than 12 hours.
  • Try to allow only through traffic within the limits.

FRA also recommends railroads:

  • Review and possibly revise all rules regarding hand-operated main track switches.
  • Inform employees of the circumstances of recent crashes involving signal suspension.
  • Enhance instruction on rules of operation related to hand-operated main track switches and boost supervisory oversight.

Comments on the draft are due June 22.

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