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About 11:03 p.m., on June 12, 1977, ConRail freight train WA-4 collided with the rear of ConRail freight train WA-6. A fire began in the lead locomotive unit of train WA-4 and in the caboose of train WA-6. Damage was about $300,000. Two crewmembers on each train were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the failure of the engineer of train WA-4 to fulfill his responsibility to properly control the speed of the train, as required by the signal indications, to insure that it could be stopped before passing signal 880. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the manner in which the engineer of train WA-4 applied and released the brakes approaching the accident point and the failure of the engineer of train WA-6 to communicate with the tower and train WA-4 when train WA-6 stopped.
On June 12, 1977, ConRail freight train WA-6, consisting of 2 GE Type E-33 electric locomotive units and 115 cars, was dispatched at 4:50 p.m. from Potomac Yard, near Washington, D.C., for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It later stopped at Bay Interlocking, Baltimore, Maryland, (Bay) to change locomotives because of mechanical problems which developed after departing Potomac Yard. Two EMD Type SD-35 diesel-electric locomotive units were substituted for the defective electric units. The train departed Bay at 10:50 p.m. with the engineer operating the locomotive from the right side of the lead unit. The front brakeman was seated on the left side of the lead unit and the conductor and the flagman were in the caboose.
Only the locomotive was equipped with an operable radio. The crewmembers in the caboose were not issued portable radios. Therefore, information could not be relayed between the two ends of the train.
Train WA-6 was being operated northward from Bay on track No. 2 when an emergency application of the train brakes occurred about 11:00 p.m. as the caboose passed signal 880 at Stemmers Run. The brake application was neither initiated by the engineer nor by the other crewmembers. The cause of the brake application was not determined and shortly after stopping, the conductor on the caboose and the engineer on the locomotive noticed on their separate gauges that the trainline air was being restored to normal pressure. This indicated that the brakes would release in a few moments and the train could proceed. Therefore, the crewmembers did not flag the rear of the train. The engineer did not notify the operator at Bay by radio or other means that his train was stopped.
The caboose of train WA-6 stopped about 283 feet north of signal 880. The engineer was attempting to restart the train after the brakes had released when train WA-4 collided with the caboose of train WA-6 at 11:03 p.m.
As a result, the brakes on train WA-6 again were applied in emergency The engineer of train WA-6 radioed the operator at Bay that his train was in emergency, but that he did not know the reason for the second brake application.
Train WA-4, consisting of 4 diesel-electric locomotive units, a GP382, 2 GP-7's and a GP-35, and 71 cars had departed Potomac Yard at 8:02 p.m. en route to Phildelphia. The engineer was operating the train from the right side and the front brakeman was seated on the left side. The locomotive was headed north with its short end forward. The conductor and flagman were in the caboose. Only the locomotive was equipped with a radio; the crewmembers in the caboose did not have a portable radio.
Train WA-4 had proceeded north to Canton Junction, located just south of Bay without incident, where the operator at Bay informed the engineer, by radio, that WA-4 would follow train WA-6 northward on track No. 2. After this radio conversation the engineer of train WA-6 informed the engineer of train WA-4, by radio, that because the crew on train WA-6 was approaching the maximum number of duty hours, train WA-6 should stay in front of train WA-4. At this time train WA-6 had departed Bay and was moving northward on track No. 2 in the vicinity of North Point.
The engineer of train WA-4 applied the train brakes and reduced the throttle to the No. 5 position as the train approached the signal at Bay. The engineer saw the signal aspect change from "stop-and-proceed" to "approach." Before
Before passing the signal, he released the brakes. After passing this signal, the engineer could see the next signal at North Point. He saw that signal also change from "stop-and-proceed" to "approach." Again, the engineer applied the brakes but released them before passing the signal. Almost immediately after passing the signal, the cab signals changed from "approach" to "clear." This permitted the
train's speed to be increased to about 40 mph. The signal aspect at River remained at "approach" as the train moved northward, so the engineer again applied the brakes to reduce the speed to about 30 mph as required by the aspect. As train WA-4 passed the signal at River, the signal aspect in the locomotive cab changed from "clear" to "approach,' indicating that the engineer, if exceeding medium speed (30 mph), must reduce to medium speed at once and must be prepared to stop at the next wayside signal.
Train WA-4 went over a road crossing about 5,000 feet south of signal 880 and the engineer made a 12- to 15-pound application of the train brakes rather than a usual 6- to 8-pound reduction. He made a heavier reduction because he had just used the automatic brake. The train was about 1,300 feet from signal 880 when the engineer saw that the signal continued to display a "stop-and-proceed" aspect; he placed the automatic brake valve in the emergency position. He then saw the caboose of train WA-6 standing about 280 feet north of signal 880. When the engineer of train WA-4 initiated the emergency brake application, his locomotive was about 1,600 feet south of the caboose of train WA-6. The engineer of train WA-4 was not able to see the markers on the caboose of train WA-6 earlier because of the curvature of the track.
The front brakeman jumped from the locomotive of train WA-4 as it approached the caboose of train WA-6. The engineer remained on the locomotive, and lay on the floor behind the middle seat of the cab.
The conductor and flagman of train WA-6 were standing on the rear platform of the caboose as train WA-4 approached. When they realized that train WA-4 was on the same track, they jumped to the ground.
Train WA-4, was moving about 20 mph when it collided with train WA-6. The caboose and next five cars of train WA-6 were derailed. The caboose stopped on the east side of track No. 1 and the five cars stopped in various positions across tracks Nos. 3 and 4. (See figure 1.) The lead locomotive unit of train WA-4 stopped across track No. 1 on its right side. The other three locomotive units were derailed but stayed in line with the track. The first four freight cars were derailed. The caboose of train WA-6 and the lead locomotive unit of train WA-4 caught fire when diesel fuel from a ruptured tank on the locomotive unit ignited.
The four main tracks at the accident site are provided with an overhead catenary system, which supplies 11,000-volt a.c. electric power for the propulsion of trains. Approaching the point of impact, a northbound train operates around a 0°30' curve to the right for 0.3 mile, and then around a compound curve of 0° 25' to 0°52' to the left for 0.9 mile. The track is then straight for 0.3 mile where it enters a compound curve to the right of 0°57' to 0°40'. The accident occurred 1,394 feet from the south end of this curve. (See figure 1.)