Railroad Accident Investigation

Ex Parte No. 231


The PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD COMPANY

Steelton PA
July 28, 1962


Interstate Commerce Commission

Washington


 

INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION

Ex Parte No. 231

 

ACCIDENT AT STEELTON PENNSYLVANIA


Decided January 18, 1963

Accident at Steelton, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 1962, caused by insecure track.

Joseph I. Lewis and Edward Munce for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

A. S. Schroeder for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Henry L. Hilzinger and Francis J. Gafford for the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Charles J. Sludden, William H. Lotz and Charles H. Sample for the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.

Michael Petresky and Herman B. Paul for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.

Harold A. Ross, J. M. Hines, Howard W. Paules, Maurice R. Logan, Jr. and W. B. Apeldorn for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.

Sol Hurwitz for parties of interest.

REPORT OF THE COMMISSION

DIVISION 3, COMMISSIONERS HUTCHINSON, McPHERSON and GOFF

McPHERSON, Commissioner:

This is an investigation by the Commission on it own motion with respect to the accident on the line of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Steelton, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 1962, involving the derailment of a passenger train. The accident resulted in the death of 19 passengers, and injury of 95 passengers, 3 dining-car employees, 1 passenger representative, and 3 train-service employees. Hearing with representatives of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission participating, was held at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on August 20 and 21, 1962.

Location of Accident and Method of Operation

This accident occurred on that part of the Philadelphia Region of the Pennsylvania Railroad extending between Harrisburg and Philadelphia, PA, 103.7 miles. In the vicinity of the point of accident this is a double-track line over which trains moving with the current of traffic are operated by signal indications of an automatic block-signal system, supplemented by a cab-signal system. From the south the main tracks are designated as track No. 1 eastward passenger, and track No. 2 westward passenger. A catenary system is provided for electric propulsion of trains. Another double-track line, designated as the Columbus Branch, parallels tracks No. 1 and No. 2 on the north in the vicinity of the point of accident.

The derailment occurred in track No. 1 at Steelton, PA., at a point 3.7 miles east of the station at Harrisburg. In this vicinity the tracks are laid along the north shore of the Susquehanna River and track No. 1 is at a distance of about 78 feet north, and a height of 30 feet above, the shoreline. At he time of the accident that portion of the river near the shoreline was approximately 18 inches in depth. See Appendix I and the sketch at the front of this report for details concerning the structure of track No. 1 in the vicinity of the derailment.

Automatic signal 1014, governing eastbound movements on track No. 1, is located 3,135 feet west of the point of derailment.

The maximum authorized speed for passenger trains in the vicinity of the derailment is 75 miles per hour.

The derailment occurred about 4:07 p.m., Saturday, July 28, 1962. At this time the weather in the vicinity of Harrisburg and Steelton was cloudy, and the temperature was approximately 83 degrees F.

About 6:00 a.m. Monday, July 23, a track force, consisting of a general track foreman, 3 track foreman, 3 assistant track foreman, 45 trackmen and several units of maintenance-of-ways equipment, proceeded to a point approximately 1.7 miles east of the station at Harrisburg and began rehabilitating the structure of track No. 1 throughout a distance of about 3 miles eastward. This project necessitated raising the track out-of face, renewing the ties, and placing new ballast in conformity with the carrier's specifications for maintenance of track as shown in Appendix II. At completion of its work on Thursday, July 26, the track force had progressed 1.8 miles eastward on track No. 1 to a point approximately 2,277 feet east of signal 1014 and about 6:00 a.m. the following morning, it continued working eastward. About 2:00 p.m., at the completion of its work on Friday, the track force had progressed 1,794 feet farther eastward, and within this distance it had raised track No. 1 about 2 1/2 inches, placed new ballast, installed 504 new ties, and relined the track. After completing this work the track force departed for the weekend.

The train involved in the accident was Extra 4878 East, an eastbound passenger train being operated for an excursion to a baseball game at Philadephia. It consisted of electric locomotive 4878, 4 coaches, 1 diner-lounge car and 4 coaches, in that order. The cars were of all-steel construction and were equipped with tightlock couplers. All the passengers were in the last two cars. This train departed from the station at Harrisburg at 4:02 PM., Saturday, July 28, after the brakes had been tested and had been found to be functioning properly, and it then entered track No. 1 where it proceeded eastward at accelerating speed, passed signal 1014 which was indicating Proceed, and attained a speed of 72 miles per hour as it reached the area where the track force had worked on the previous day. About this time both enginemen simultaneously observed that track No. 1 was out of alinement at a distance of about 600 feet ahead, and the engineer immediately applied the brakes in emergency. The speed, however, was not materially reduced before the train reached the displaced portion of the track, and as the train was moving over the displaced track the front truck of the 5th car, and all trucks of the 6th to 9th cars, inclusive, became derailed at a point about 858 feet east of the point where the track force had commenced work on Friday. Separations occurred at both ends of the 7th car, and the front portion of train stopped with the rear end of the 6th car, 1,470 feet east of the point of derailment. The 5th car, which remained coupled to the 4th car, stopped upright on and in line with the structure of track No. 1. The 6th car, which remained coupled to the 5th car, stopped upright with the front end on the structure of track No. 1 and with the rear end on the south side of this track structure. The right side of the 6th car was extensively damaged, apparently as a result of contact with a pole of the catenary system. The 7th car derailed to the south, apparently struck a cantenary pole, and moved southward to the Susquehanna River, where it stopped upright in the river, adjacent to and in line with the shoreline, and with the front end 540 feet to the rear of the 6th car. The 8th and 9th cars, which were occupied by the passengers, overturned and stopped on their right sides in the shallow portion of the river immediately to the rear of, and in line with, the 7th car. The 5th car was slightly damaged, and the 6th to 9th cars, inclusive, were heavily damaged.

The engineer of Extra 4878 East estimated that the displaced portion of track No. 1 was somewhat less than 285 feet in length. According to his testimony this portion of the track was buckled in a weaving pattern up to a distance 3 feet northward. The fireman also testified that the track was displaced 2 1/2 to 3 feet northward. Both enginemen felt the locomotive lurch violently as it moved over the displaced track, and the conductor, who was in the 5th car, first became aware of something being wrong when the 5th car lurched violently as it moved over this portion of the track.

Examination of the train equipment after the accident occurred disclosed no evidence to indicated that a condition of the train caused or contributed to the cause of the accident.

Examination of track No. 1 after accident occurred disclosed that the track had buckled out of alinement eastward starting at a point about 850 feet east of the point where the track force had commenced work in Friday. The first mark of derailment was a flange mark on the gage side of the head of the south rail at a point 3,129 feet east of signal 1014. This mark extended a distance of 6 feet diagonally eastward across the head of the south rail to a point on the field side, and opposite this point a flange mark appeared on the ties approximately 9 inches south of the gage side of the north rail, indicating that a pair of wheels had become derailed to the south at this location. The flange mark on the ties extended diagonally eastward 47 feet to a point 19 inches south of the north rail, and throughout a distance of about 1,200 feet farther eastward the structure of track No. 1 was destroyed or damaged. Consequently, the extent to which the track had been buckled could not be determined. Examination of the track westward from the point of derailment to the point where the track force had commenced work on Friday, a distance of about 858 feet, disclosed that the rail joints were tight, and that of the 470 ties within this distance, 322 had been newly installed by the track force on Friday. No rail anchors were found applied adjacent to any of the new ties. Several ties in this area were found to be improperly spaced, and some spikes were found to be bent or improperly driven. The gage varied up to a maximum of 3/8 inch wide, and the cross levels at intervals of 19 feet 6 inches varied up to a maximum of 3/8 inch. Throughout a distance of 234 feet west of the point of derailment the track was out of alinement to maximums of 3 inches southward and 11 3/4 inches northward. The ballast throughout a distance of 858 feet west of the point of derailment was not up around the ends of the ties or between the ties in accordance with the carrier's specifications for maintenance of track.

According to testimony taken at the hearing, about 6:00 a.m. Monday, July 23, the track force proceeded to a point on track No. 1 about 1.7 miles east of the station at Harrisburg and began rehabilitating this track throughout a distance of approximately 3 miles eastward, a project which would take several days to complete and which necessitated raising the track, renewing the ties, placing new ballast, and relining the resurfacing of the track. To accomplish this work the track force was provided with an average of 8 carloads of new ballast per mile, new ties, and among other mechanically and manually operated equipment, 2 spike pullers, 1 power jack, 1 tie bed scarifier, 1 tie gandy, 1 rail lifter, 2 tie borers, 1 spike nipper, 1 ballast distributor, 1 tamping power jack, 1 power ballaster, 1 track liner and 1 nut runner. On Monday and on each of the following days through Friday, July 27, the day prior to the day of the accident, the track force worked from about 6:15 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and during these hours that portion of track No. 1 between Harrisburg and Roy, 10.1 miles east of Harrisburg, was out of service by train order, except for work extra trains and switching movements. At the completion of work on each of these days a supervisor of the track force communicated by telephone with the train dispatcher and informed him that track No. 1 could be restored to service for normal operations until the track force returned to work. When the dispatcher received this information each day he annulled the train orders that placed track No. 1out of service, and then issued a slow order to the first train due to depart eastward from Harrisburg on track No. 1. This train, under the provisions of the slow order, was restricted from exceeding a speed of 40 miles per hour on track No. 1 in the area where the track force had worked that day. Following eastbound trains on track No. 1 were not issued any order or instructions which restricted their speed in the area involved to less than 75 miles per hour, the maximum authorized speed.

About 2:00 p.m. Friday, after the track force had worked on track No. 1 between points about 858 feet west and 936 feet east of the point of derailment, the train dispatcher was notified that track No. 1 between Harrisburg and Roy could be restored to service for normal operations until the track force returned to work on the following Monday, after which all the members of the track force departed from this area for the weekend. According to testimony of the general track foreman, before departing on Friday he observed that the new ballast placed on track No. 1 that day was not up around the ties sufficiently to conform with the carrier's specifications for maintenance of track. He stated, however, that he judged this portion of the track to be safe and secure for normal train movements until the track force returned to work on Monday, when finishing touches would be done, and that he had not taken any exceptions to the condition in which this portion of track was left for the weekend.

Soon after he was notified on Friday that track No. 1 between Harrisburg and Roy could be restored to service for normal operation until the following Monday, the train dispatcher annulled the train order that specified track No. 1 was out of service, and at 2:21 p.m. he transmitted train order No. 543 to No. 10, the first train due to depart eastward from Harrisburg on track No. 1. Under the provisions of this train order, No. 10, a first-class eastbound passenger train, was restricted from moving at a speed in excess of 40 miles per hour in the area where the track force had worked on Friday and throughout a distance of about 2 miles in approach there to. This train departed from Harrisburg at 3:11 p.m., Friday, July 27, proceeded eastward on track No. 1, and, soon afterward, passed the area where the track force had worked the same day. The members of the crew took no exceptions to the condition of the track in this area. Between 3:11 p.m., Friday, July 27, and 2:41 p.m., Saturday, July 28, 14 other passenger trains, and 4 freight trains, departed from Harrisburg and proceeded eastward on track No. 1 in the area where the track force had worked during the previous five days. No train order was issued to any of these trains to restrict the speed in this area. According to testimony taken at the hearing, apparently none of the members of crews of these noticed anything unusual while passing the area where the work had been performed on track No. 1, with the exception of the fireman of No. 10 of Saturday, July 28. This train, which departed from Harrisburg at 2:41 p.m., was the last train to move over track No. 1 in the vicinity of the derailment before the train involved in the accident. The fireman testified that as No. 10 was moving in the vicinity of the area where the track forces had worked on Friday he felt a rough condition of track, and that this condition was a more noticeable in the immediate vicinity of the point where the derailment occurred. He said however, that at the time he did not think this rough track condition was sufficiently serious to report to officials of the carrier. The engineer of this train said that he did not notice any unusual condition of track No. 1 in this area.

When repairs were made to track No. 1 after the accident, additional new ballast was placed on the track structure, the rail anchors that had been removed by the track force on Friday were replaced, and other work was performed to bring the track up to the standards prescribed by the carrier's specifications for maintenance of track.

At the time of the accident the temperature in the vicinity of Steelton and Harrisburg was 83 degrees. The examination of track No. 1 between the point where the track force commenced work on Friday and the point where the derailment occurred disclosed that insufficient ballast had been placed in this area to conform with the carrier's specifications, that approximately 50 percent of the rail anchors had been removed and had not been re-applied when new ties were installed, that the rail joints were tight, that several ties were improperly spaced, that some spikes were improperly driven, that the gage varied up to a maximum of 3/8 inch wide, and that the cross levels varied up to a maximum of 3/8 inch. No evidence of significant longitudinal movement of the rails through the anchor was observed. It is the testimony of the general track foreman that he judged the track to be safe and secure when that the track force completed its work on Friday and that he judged the track would remain secure until the track force returned on Monday for finishing touches in the area involved and further work eastward. From all indications, however, it is evident that the track was not in the condition that the general track foreman thought it to be. It is apparent that the high temperature on the day of the accident caused excessive compression as a result of longitudinal expansion due to heat, and that this compression caused the insufficiently anchored and ballasted portion of the track to buckle about midway in the area where the track force had worked on the previous day. The deflection of the track apparently increased as a result of braking forces exerted on the track structure while the train was closely approaching and moving over the displaced track, permitting a wheel on the north side of the train to drop inside the north rail and the general derailment to occur.

We find that:

1. The derailment was not caused by any defective condition of the train.

2. The portion of the track involved was insufficiently ballasted and anchored to secured the track.

3. The insecure track buckled prior to the time of the derailment due to excessive compression caused by expansion of rails.

4. The derailment was caused by insecure track.

By the Commission, Division 3.

HAROLD D. McCOY,
Secretary.

APPENDIX I

Description of Accident Area

From the west on track No. 1 there are, in succession, a 1 degree 00' curve to the left 1,457 feet, a tangent 2,289 feet, a 0 degree 22' curve to the left 2,139 feet, and a tangent 3,835 feet to the point of derailment and a considerable distance eastward. In this vicinity the grade is practically level.

The structure of track No. 1 consists of 131-pound rail, 39 feet in length, laid new in 1943 on an average of 22 treated ties to the rail length. It is fully tieplated with double-shoulder tieplated, spiked with two rail-holding and 2 plate-holding spikes per tie plate, and is provided with 6 O-hole, 36-inch joint bars. It is normally provided with and average of 8 rail anchors per rail. It is ballasted with stone to a depth of 30 inches below the bottoms of the ties.

APPENDIX II

The Carrier's Specifications for Construction and Maintenance of Track Reads in Part as Follows:

 

SPIKING

Application:

602: Spikes must be started vertically and square and driven straight. The shank of rail holding spikes must have full bearing against base of rail. The last few blows shall be given lightly so that the spike head will not be damaged. Spikes must be kept driven home, being careful not to overdrive full throated spikes.

 

BALLAST

Use:

701. Ballast is used to obtain:

(a) A uniform bearing for the ties.

(b) Resistance against lateral movement of the track to maintain uniform tie spacing.

(c) Distribution of the weight of trains by means of the ties over the maximum area of the roadbed.

* * *

(e) Reduction of vibration or ties and thereby present the loosening of tamping.

* * *

Filling Cross Section:

707. Clean, well compacted ballast must be placed around the ends of all ties up to not less than two-thirds of the height of the tie, as soon as the work which necessitates its removal is completed, to prevent deterioration and loosening of the tamping and resulting center bound track before ballast can be trimmed to standard cross section. In trimming to the standard cross section, ballast shall be level, lined and faced by mechanical means to greatest extent possible, leaving the minimum to be done by hand labor.

708. Without speed restrictions having been provided for, the track shall not be lifted to such a height, or stripped to such a depth, as to result in more than one half the thickness of the ties extending above the level of the ballast. As soon as practicable after the track has been lifted the ballast shall be filled in between the ties as shown on the standard plan.

 

CROSS TIES

Placing

* * *

105.

(b) Ties shall be spaced a uniform distance center to center, disregarding the actual number of ties in each half rail length of track.

(c) For various prescribed numbers of ties per rail, the following spacing center to center of ties shall apply:

22 ties per 39-Ft. rail - - 21 1/4" center to center

106. Ties shall be kept properly spaced and square to the line of the rail. Ties shall respaced when there is a variance from correct spacing of 3 inches at joints and 5 inches at intermediate ties.

 

TRACK OBSTRUCTION

Description:

902. Whenever necessary to leave the main track in other than satisfactory condition for the passage of trains at authorized speed, provided full protection and notify the Superintendent Transportation by wire. Any track must be regarded as unsatisfactory for the passage of trains at authorized speed when any of the following conditions exist:

* * *

(e) Raising Track and Maintaining Cross Level:

When the line and surface has not been completed and the new track has not been ballasted in cribs and shoulders in accordance with paragraph 708 and the following limits are exceeded:

* * *

Difference in cross level at any two points less than 62 feet apart on curves between spirals and tangents:

* * *

Speed in Miles per Hour:

* * *

Over 70 - 1/2 inch

* * *

When progressing track raising skeletononizing and extraordinary lining work, track must be backfilled currently with ballast in accordance with paragraph 708.