Regulators neglected to act on rail safety, NTSB head testifies U.S., Md. legislative panels probe crashes

February 28, 1996|By John B. O'Donnell and Peter Jensen | John B. O'Donnell and Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The head of the National Transportation Safety Board expressed frustration yesterday that federal regulators had failed for many years to adopt safety recommendations from his agency that might have prevented a number of accidents including the deadly train wreck this month in Silver Spring.

James E. Hall, chairman of the NTSB, told the Senate Commerce Committee that the accidents could have been prevented if the government had heeded his agency's pleas over a quarter-century for "positive train separation" technology that would automatically prevent collisions.

The Feb. 16 Silver Spring collision of Maryland commuter and Amtrak trains, which left 11 dead, is still under investigation.

He said the MARC collision and a head-on collision between two commuter trains in New Jersey Feb. 9 that killed three people and injured 162 "could have been prevented if a fully developed positive train separation control system had been in place."

In another hearing yesterday on rail safety, a state legislative committee in Annapolis received reports from railroad union officials detailing workers' recollections of numerous CSX Transportation track signal malfunctions in Maryland since 1992.

Leroy D. Jones, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, said his members have kept a logbook of signal problems for the company, but the document hasn't been seen since the crash.

The reports provided by the union include an alleged 1992 incident when an engineer encountered an all-clear signal that switched to red and back to green again. In another incident, an engineer saw a green signal and then confronted a red one calling for him to stop immediately.

"We have had concerns about operations on MARC trains for some time," Mr. Jones told the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Federal Relations.

Representatives of CSX-T, which operates the track signaling system, said at the hearing that they know of no logbook and declined to discuss the signal system while it is under investigation. Later, the company issued a statement calling the union testimony "clearly an attempt to discredit CSX-T."

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