NS: NTSB Determination Concerning 2006 Train Accident is Faulty

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk Southern Railway Co. says it strongly disagrees with the National Transportation Safety Board’s determination of probable cause contained in its Accident Report released today for the New Brighton, Pa., derailment.

The NTSB found that an Oct. 20, 2006, derailment was caused by an “inadequate rail inspection and maintenance program,” and contributing to the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration’s inadequate oversight of the internal rail inspection process and its insufficient requirements for internal rail inspection.

But, Norfolk Southern said its rail inspection and maintenance program complies with all applicable regulations, and even the NTSB concedes that Norfolk Southern tested more frequently than required by Federal Railroad Administration regulation.

Norfolk Southern will file a formal petition for reconsideration and modification that will rely, in part, on newly available inspection data supplied to the NTSB last month, but not addressed in the accident report, the company said. Norfolk Southern’s petition will defend the adequacy of its rail inspection and maintenance program and will seek to correct the record before the NTSB and any misconceptions on the part of the NTSB about that program and its consistency with the regulations.

“We take strong exception to any contention that we failed to perform a continuous search of our rail for internal defects or that our inspection and maintenance program is inadequate. In fact, many of our procedures exceed FRA standards,” said Tim Drake, NS vice president engineering.

“Norfolk Southern used the best available track inspection technology and procedures at the time and used an expert rail defect detection contractor to inspect its rails at a frequency that exceeds FRA requirements. It is highly unlikely that any changes to NS’ technology and procedures could have uncovered the flaw that caused the derailment,” Drake added.

On Oct. 20, 2006, a Norfolk Southern freight train (68QB119), en route from the Chicago area to Sewaren, N.J., derailed while crossing the Beaver River railroad bridge in New Brighton, Pa. The train consisted of a three-unit locomotive pulling three empty freight cars and 83 tank cars loaded with 660,952 gallons of denatured ethanol.

Twenty-three of the tank cars derailed, and several of the cars fell into the Beaver River. Approximately 20 of the cars released ethanol, a flammable liquid that ignited and burned for 48 hours. A seven-block area of New Brighton was evacuated. There were no injuries or fatalities.

The New Brighton accident resulted in an ethanol spill and fire on a nearby river. There were no injuries. The train’s crew and mechanical condition were not factors, and the railroad’s emergency response system was deemed effective and appropriate.

“Norfolk Southern has the lowest track-caused accident rate among all Class 1 railroads,” Drake said. “Any suggestion that we short-cut track safety goes against the facts and is counter to our policy and practice.”

— Wire Reports