FRA launches ‘Portable Derails’ safety advice | So Good News


Written by

Marybeth Luczak, Managing Editor

Pictured: Example of a portable derailment.  (Wabtec photograph)

Pictured: Example of a portable derailment. (Wabtec photograph)

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued Safety Advisory 2022-01 for railroads and railroad contractors on the importance of ensuring that portable derailers are clearly visible to train crews and operators of other track equipment (especially at night and in other low-light conditions) and to have processes in place to ensure that portable derailers are removed when not required for on-track safety.

The advisory stems from an Aug. 29, 2022, derailment, FRA reported in the Oct. 28 issue of Federal Register (download below). “[A] train crews operating at a rail yard at night encountered a portable derailment placed on the track earlier that day to protect several engineering work crews working on the track,” the FRA wrote. “The train crew, who did not see the derailment, drove the train directly into the derailment, hitting it at about nine miles per hour and derailing the first two cars of their train. The conductor, who was driving the lead car, was fatally injured when the car overturned.”

FRA’s Blue Signal Protection (BSP) requirements “have long required that mechanical derailers be used to protect workers on, under, or between rolling equipment to have a blue light illuminated at night. See 49 CFR part 218, subpart B,” according to the agency. “Typically, in BSP work areas (eg, mechanic shops), derailments are located at known or fixed locations. However, road workers use portable maintenance derailments (MOWs), which can be installed almost anywhere on non-controlled tracks for protection.

“Because portable MOW derailers are not required to be marked or otherwise illuminated for visibility, even in conditions of limited visibility, they themselves can become hazards if they are not clearly visible in low light conditions. Consequently, best practice dictates that portable derailers installed on tracks should be equipped with a portable light or, at the very least, reflectorized flags in low light conditions.”

The FRA also noted that portable derailers should not be left on the track when they are no longer needed. For example, the agency reported, “some railroads require their wayside workers in charge (RWIC) to complete a form before installing the portable derails. This form typically requires the RWIC to record the date, location, time of installation, and time of removal of the portable derail. Formalization of the portable derailment installation and removal process raises awareness of the presence of portable derailments and the importance of removing these derailments from the track when they are no longer needed.”

FRA pointed out that “some railroads require employees to place a tag on the steering wheel of their high-rail vehicles when placing shunts on the track. A similar process for placing portable derails will ensure against road workers inadvertently leaving portable derails on the track.”

FRA recommends that railroads and railroad contractors take the following actions:

  • “Review the circumstances surrounding the fatal accident described in this safety instruction together with your employees.
  • “Review and revise, as necessary, their field safety manuals to ensure that the use of portable track chutes is adequately addressed and, as a minimum, that these manuals:
    – “Ensure that portable derailers are equipped with a working light or reflective flag when used at night or in other conditions of limited visibility.
    — “Include procedures to ensure that portable gutters are removed when no longer needed, such as procedures to track the location and use of portable gutters.”

The agency wrote that it “encourages all members of the railroad industry to take action consistent with the recommendations in this safety advisory. FRA may modify this safety advisory, issue additional safety advisories, or take other appropriate actions necessary to ensure the highest level of safety on the nation’s railroads, including pursuing other corrective actions under their rail safety authority.”


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