OMAHA, Nebraska — Investigators confirmed Thursday that the crash that killed two Union Pacific employees earlier this month in Southern California occurred when a train collided with 92 empty railcars that had been kept on a side track for nine months.
In its preliminary assessment, the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the derailment on September 8 caused around $1.2 million in damages, but investigators have not identified what caused the collision in the desert near the Salton Sea.
The two Union Pacific crew members were ejected when their train collided with the parked vehicles at 2:40 a.m. that morning, and they perished at the site. According to the NTSB, the two locomotives that were pulling the train as well as one of the cars they were dragging and two railcars that had been stored there since December derailed. However, the remaining 121 railcars carrying shipping containers remained on the tracks, as did the train’s two engines.
It was initially unclear why Union Pacific’s automatic braking system failed to stop the train. Positive Train Control aims to reduce human error by automatically stopping trains in certain circumstances, such as when they are in danger of colliding with another train, derailing due to excessive speed, entering a track undergoing maintenance, or traveling in the wrong direction due to improper switching.
After a commuter train crashed head-on with a freight train in Los Angeles in 2008, causing 25 fatalities and more than 100 injuries, Congress mandated the creation and installation of this braking device.
Before a dispatcher instructed the eastbound train to draw onto the side, which is generally used for trains to allow incoming traffic to pass, it was traveling at 28 mph, according to investigators.
Thursday, a spokeswoman for the railroad headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, declined to comment on this disaster because the NTSB is investigating it.
The NTSB has stated that its inquiry will concentrate on the railroad’s dispatching methods, guidelines for long-term storage of rail cars, and signal and train control system. However, according to the agency, the review will take between one and two years to complete.
Union Pacific is among the major freight railroads in the United States, with 32,400 miles of track in 23 Western states.