Regulators Say Railroads Must Examine How They Set Up Trains


     Federal regulators said Friday that railroads need to re-examine how they assemble their trains after a string of derailments in recent years that were at least partly caused by the way empty and loaded cars were mixed together with locomotives.

     The FRA – Federal Railroad Administration – advisory says “Railroads must prioritize proper train makeup to maintain safety, prevent accidents, and optimize train performance. All operating employees must be properly trained in these technologies and the handling of complex trains to ensure safe operation and minimize human error.”

      Heavy cars at the back of a train can push and pull against empty cars in the middle of a train as it goes over hills and around corners, while placing locomotives at different places in a train can amplify those forces – all of which become more of a problem as the industry increasingly relies on longer trains with a wide variety of freight aboard.

    The FRA advisory cites six derailments since 2021 where those forces were a factor, including last month’s Norfolk Southern derailment near Springfield, Ohio, and 2021 Union Pacific derailment that forced the evacuation of Sibley, Iowa, for 3 days. Regulators say those kinds of derailments are happening with increasing frequency.

      All of the derailments cited involved trains with at least 125 cars, and in every case an empty car was the first to come off the tracks. The kind of forces regulators are concerned about are amplified in longer trains, especially if large blocks of empty cars are placed in the middle or front of a train. 

       The major freight railroads have all overhauled their operations in recent years to rely more on longer trains so they don’t need as many crews or locomotives, resulting in trains that routinely stretch longer than 2 or even 3 miles.

      As a train moves across uneven territory, its front half might be getting pulled up a hill while the back half is coming down and pushing forward against the rest of the cars. Those dynamics make it difficult for the engineer to manage.

     Union Pacific had 3 trains highlighted in the advisory, and spokeswoman Kristen South says the railroad is using high-tech tools to monitor train forces and make adjustments as needed.  

      South says UP saw derailments decline both last year and this year, even as maximum train length reached 9,329 feet or 1.8-million, adding that “We constantly evaluate our processes and continue to work with government agencies and industry partners to further improve safety.”

4 thoughts on “Regulators Say Railroads Must Examine How They Set Up Trains”

  1. I reported $236 million waste, fraud and theft at wabtec subsidiary Motive Power in Boise Idaho months before the #7 locomotive of a 27 unit NYCT contract had to be derailed before it ran through the paint shop possibly killing employees.

    MBTA Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority contract was included in that $236 million Obama stimulus in which all 40 locomotives were pulled from service before they went into service.

    I reported this to the FRA, Sec of Transportation LaHood, Foxx, Bueligeig, President Obama and Biden none of them did anything suggesting they investigated.

    I reported this on 2011 if I remember correctly, wabtec split while Motive Power was in my opinion losing millions so as to receive as much Obama stimulus as possible.

    Motive Power failing to the point wabtec brought in a consultant who would start to get things on track, he’d leave town after a month and Motive Power would go right back to failing.

    Supply chain a disaster, employees stood around for house, days without parts. Not enough tools employees had to share sockets, wrenches up and down the assembly line, forklift drivers one day, electricians the next employees weren’t qualified leading to 700, 800 electrical faults at the end of assembly.

    Outsourcing sheet metal a disaster, frames outsourced had no camber, other problems frames had to be cut, bent and rewelded the list was perpetual.

    Motive Power was shut down in 2021 I believe, wabtec moved operations to Erie, PA.

    One of my bosses bragged about drug abuse at Motive Power in the 70s, people smoking pit and doing cocaine in locomotives they were building.

    If anybody is to blame it’s DC politicians accepting campaign finance no doubt investing in Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway and other rail companies buying up smaller rail companies with Obama stimulus and tax dollars.

  2. BOISE, Idaho — The Boise-based locomotive manufacturer, MotivePower, Inc., will cease its manufacturing operations after nearly 50 years of locomotive production in Boise.

    MotivePower’s parent company, Wabtec, announced on Wednesday that it plans to consolidate Boise manufacturing operations into the company’s facility in Erie, Pennsylvania.

    “Decisions like this are never easy but will help simplify and optimize the company’s manufacturing footprint in today’s cyclical environment, as well as better position Wabtec for success,” a Wabtech spokesperson said in a written statement.

    The spokesperson added that the company will continue to maintain ownership of the MotivePower facility – located off of Federal Way and Apple Street in Southeast Boise – and some of the engineering, program management and services teams will remain there.

    At this point, there is no word on if any Boise workers will be asked to relocate, or how many of them will lose their jobs. The Wabtec spokesman declined to comment when asked about layoffs.

  3. Locomotives made by Boise’s MotivePower keep breaking down in Boston, disrupting commuter service there, according to a contractor that operates the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s commuter train system. The problems have contributed to canceled routes and worsening on-time performance, according to the Boston Globe. The transit authority paid MotivePower $222 million for 40 locomotives. General Electric partnered with MotivePower to deliver the engines. On April 6, 13 of those were pulled from routes for repairs, fixing defects or preventative maintenance, the Globe reported.

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  4. No trains over 6500 feet plus power. plus No train over 10,000 tons. 2 crew members on the headend of all trains Freight or Passenger. All HAZ MAT trains over 5500 feet, 6000 tons, and 45 mph. Plus no block of HAZ MAT cars more 2 together with 5 cars buffer in between. Federal Regulations in place. ASAP.

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