Federal agencies Rail Transportation

Unintended train brake release spurs FRA advisory

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Washington — In response to an incident involving the unintended release of a train’s automatic air brakes while stopped at a signal, the Federal Railroad Administration has issued a safety advisory.

According to a notice published in the Dec. 29 Federal Register, the incident occurred June 22 during a “significant thunderstorm” and involved an intermodal train with three head-end locomotives, 47 loaded cars and six empty cars – all weighing nearly 7,400 tons and measuring more than 9,200 feet long. 

The train’s two-person crew – a locomotive engineer and a conductor – stopped the train on a downhill grade of 0.9% to 1.2%, while setting the train’s air brakes at approximately 12 pounds and fully setting the locomotive’s independent brakes. After three hours, the crew saw the train roll forward, experiencing an unintended automatic brake release. 

At the time of the release, the train was stopped at signal interlocking that displayed a stop indication and an opposing train was preparing to pass through. The engineer stopped the train short of the signal by applying full-service air brakes and the emergency brakes, along with several handbrakes.

FRA’s recommendations:

  • Crews shouldn’t expect a service rate or emergency brake application to indefinitely maintain application of a train’s air brakes.
  • If a stopped train with air brakes set begins to move, the crew should immediately apply the emergency brake. After the train stops, the crew should set a sufficient number of handbrakes to guard against further unintended movement before releasing the brakes and charging the train’s air brake system.
  • Railroads should adopt and implement air brake procedures consistent with the first two recommendations.
  • Each railroad should have an operating supervisor meet with each locomotive engineer and conductor to explain and reinforce key points of the FRA advisory.

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