NTSB rules on cause of Washington D.C. accident that killed two

Published: April 10, 2019

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled last month that the probable cause of a fatal accident in June 2017 that killed both a CSX conductor and a conductor trainee was the decision of the two men to walk near an active track without protection.

The men were struck from behind at 11:18 p.m. June 27, 2017, by an Amtrak train while walking back to the cab of their train in Ivy City, a neighborhood in Washington, D.C. They had been returning from a railcar inspection when struck.

“NTSB investigators learned through interviews that many railroad workers found it easier to walk on the crossties rather than directly on the ballast and sometimes took this course of action when the track was either protected or out of service,” the report, which was released April 9, 2019, stated. “The conductors were likely aware that the two Amtrak tracks were active. However, they may have chosen this more comfortable way for them to walk back to the head end because no trains had passed through the area for about an hour.”

Contributing to the accident, NTSB said, was that the men were focused on a northbound Amtrak train approaching them from the front on a set of tracks beside the tracks the men were walking on and failed to realize a second southbound Amtrak train was approaching from behind.

“The conductors probably first detected the headlights from the northbound train ahead of them. Moments later they would have heard a horn and bell and likely attributed the source of these sounds to this northbound train,” the report stated. “As the northbound train approached them, they could have visually determined that it was operating on an adjacent track and therefore was not a direct threat to their safety. Thus, they may not have felt the need to move away.”

Both trains sounded their horns at virtually the same time, the NTSB said.

“Given the simultaneous and similar horn and bell sounds from the two trains, the conductors may not have discerned two sources of the sounds and, consequently, concluded that the sounds originated from only one train — the one that they had detected ahead of them. As a result, it appears the conductors were unaware that a second train was approaching them from behind,” the report stated.

NTSB issued a new safety recommendation to the two carriers involved in the accident at the conclusion of its report:

“Prohibit employees from fouling adjacent tracks of another railroad unless the employees are provided protection from trains and/or equipment on the adjacent tracks by means of communication between the two railroads.”

Read the full NTSB report here.