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Fatal incident in Texas train yard involving a portable derail spurs FRA safety advisory

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The National Transportation Safety Board released this photo of the derailment that killed a Union Pacific conductor in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 29, 2022. Photo: National Transportation Safety Board and Union Pacific

Washington — In response to a recent fatal derailment at a Texas train yard, the Federal Railroad Administration has issued a safety advisory on the use of portable derails.

According to notice published in the Oct. 28 Federal Register, a 61-car Union Pacific Railroad train was traveling 9 mph when it struck a derailing device at 9:14 p.m. on Aug. 29 in El Paso, TX. The crew didn’t see the portable derail, which was placed on the track earlier in day to protect maintenance workers installing a switch in the yard. The conductor, who was riding in the lead car, was fatally injured when the car rolled over.

FRA emphasizes the importance of ensuring portable derails are visible in low-light conditions and that processes are in place to ensure the removal of these devices when they’re no longer necessary for on-track safety.

Some railroads, the agency notes, require workers to place a tag on the steering wheel of hi-rail vehicles when placing shunts on the track, adding that a similar process for placing portable derails would guard against workers unintentionally leaving portable derails on a track.

The agency recommends that railroad operators and contractors:

  • Review details of the El Paso incident with workers.
  • Ensure their safety manuals properly address the use of portable derails.
  • Equip any portable derails with a light or reflectors.
  • Include procedures that call for portable derails to be removed when no longer necessary.

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