November 29, 2005

Rail workers blamed for deadly train crash

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Freight railroads should locate
tankers hauling toxic chemicals toward the rear of trains or
take other steps to minimize the crash impact in a derailment,
U.S. transportation safety investigators said on Tuesday.

The recommendation to regulators came as the National
Transportation Safety Board blamed rail workers for an
improperly aligned track switch that led to the deadly
collision of two freight trains last January in South Carolina.

The crash punctured a Norfolk Southern Railway Co. tank car
carrying chlorine, releasing a gas cloud that settled over the
town of Graniteville, killing the train's engineer and eight
other people.

More than 5,000 people were evacuated from their homes for
several days, hundreds complaining of breathing problems,
officials said.

Investigators found the crew of the train struck on a
siding while idle and unoccupied failed to tend to a switch
that would have kept the Norfolk Southern train traveling on
the main track.

"Contributing to the accident was the absence of any
feature or mechanism that would have reminded crewmembers of
the switch position," the safety board said.

The tanker carrying chlorine -- the ninth of 42 freight
cars of the Norfolk Southern train -- was pierced on its side
by the coupler of the 11th car.

The safety board recommended regulators make railroads
minimize the potential consequences of a derailment. This could
include placing tanker cars loaded with toxic material toward
the rear of a train and making trains hauling such cargo go
slower through populated areas.

The Norfolk Southern train was traveling at 47 mph.