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Accident at Floka, Nevada

RAILROAD ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION
REPORT NO. 4166

WESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY
FLOKA, NEVADA
MARCH 28, 1970

FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION
BUREAU OF RAILROAD SAFETY
Washington, D. C. 20590

Summary

DATE: March 28, 1970
RAILROAD: Western Pacific
LOCATION: Floka, Nevada
KIND OF ACCIDENT: Side Collision
TRAINS INVOLVED: Freight Freight
TRAIN NUMBERS: Extra SP 8430 East Extra 1016 West
LOCOMOTIVE NUMBERS: 8430, 8417, 8998 3016, 3505, 3011
CONSISTS: 103 Cars, Caboose 53 Cars, Caboose
SPEEDS: 4-6 m. p. h. 45-55 m. p. h.
OPERATION: Signal indications
TRACK: Single; tangent; 0.80 percent descending grade westward
WEATHER: Clear
TIME: 2:40 p.m.
CASUALTIES: 2 killed; 1 injured
CAUSE: Western Pacific train moving out of control on a descending grade due to a defective condition in its air brake system.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION
BUREAU OF RAILROAD SAFETY

RAILROAD ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION REPORT NO. 4166 WESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY MARCH 28, 1970

Diagram of accident scene Floka, Nevada

Synopsis

On March 28, 1970, a side collision occurred between a Western Pacific freight train and a Southern Pacific freight train near one end of a siding on the line of the Western Pacific Railroad Company at Floka, Nevada. It resulted in death to an engineer and a road-foreman-of-engines, and in injury to a brakeman.

Cause

The accident was caused by the Western Pacific train moving out of control on a descending grade due to a defective condition in its air brake system.

Location and Method of Operation

The accident occurred on that part of the Western Pacific Railroad extending westward from Winnemucca to Flanigan, Nevada, a distance of 148.8 miles. This is a single-track line over which trains of the Western Pacific Railroad Company (WP) and the Southern Pacific Transportation Company (SP) jointly operate by signal indications of a traffic control system.

At Floka, 52.9 miles west of Winnemucca, a siding about 1.3 miles long parallels the main track on the north.

The collision occurred 188 feet east of the west siding-switch at Floka, at the fouling point of the main track and the west end of the siding.

Time and Weather

The accident occurred at 2:40 p.m., under clear weather conditions. The temperature was about 50 degrees.

Track

From the east on the main track there are, successively, a tangent 1912 feet long, a 2°32' curve to the left 2221 feet, and a tangent 1.4 miles to the collision point and a considerable distance westward.

The grade for westbound trains in the collision area is 0.80% descending.

The following photograph shows the main track, siding, and nature of the terrain in the collision area.

View westward along siding
View westward along the Floka siding. Signal 86 Lab in foreground. The collision occurred at
the fouling point of the main track and west (far) end of siding.

Traffic Control System

The siding switches at Floka are power operated. They and the controlled signals are controlled by the WP train dispatcher at Sacramento, California.

Controlled signal 84 Rab, governing eastbound movements on the main track, is 9 feet west of the west siding-switch at Floka. Automatic signal 4819 and controlled signals 86 Lab and 84 La, governing westbound movements on the main track, are 3.2 miles, 1.3 miles and 347 feet east of the aforesaid switch, respectively.

The signals are of the color-light type and are approach lighted. The aspects applicable to this report and the corresponding indications and names are as follows:

Signal Aspect Indication Name
84 Rab Red-over-Yellow Proceed on diverging Diverging Route at Restricted Restricting Speed, ***.

4819 Flashing Yellow Proceed, approaching Approach next signal at Medium Speed.

86 Lab Yellow Proceed, preparing Approach to stop at next signal. Trains exceeding medium speed must at once reduce to that speed.

84 La Red STOP STOP

The circuits are so arranged that when the route has been established by the dispatcher for an eastbound train to enter the Floka siding at the west switch, and for a westbound train to proceed on the main track to signal 84 La, signal 84 Rab displays a Diverging-Restricting aspect for the eastbound train and signals 4819, 86 Lab and 84 La dis­play Approach-Medium, Approach and Stop aspects, respectively, for the westbound train.

Authorized Speed

The maximum authorized speed for freight trains in the accident area is 60 m.p.h.

Carrier's Operating Rules – Definitions

Speed

Medium - A speed not exceeding 35 m.p.h.

Restricted - A speed * * * not exceeding 15 m.p.h.

Train Equipment

The locomotive and cabooses of both trains had radio equipment tuned to the radio channels of their respective railroads.

Circumstances Prior to Accident Train Dispatcher

About one hour before the accident, the train dispatcher established the route for Extra SP 8430 East to enter the Floka siding via the west switch, and for Extra 3016 West to proceed on the main track to signal 84 La.

Extra SP 8430 East

Extra SP 8430 East, an eastbound SP freight train consisting of 3 road-switcher type diesel-electric units, 103 cars and a caboose, left Wendel, California, at 11:55 a.m., the day of the accident. About 30 minutes later, it entered the WP main track near Flanigan, Nevada. The engineer and fireman were in the control compartment of the first locomotive unit. The front brakeman was in the control compartment of the second locomotive unit. The conductor, swing brakeman, and flagman were in the caboose.

Extra 3016 West

This was a westbound WP freight train consisting of 3 road-switcher type diesel-electric units, 53 cars and a caboose (4102 tons). It left Salt Lake City, Utah, at 2:05 a.m. the day of the accident after having had an initial terminal brake test and stopped at Elko, Nevada, a crew-change point. About 1:00 p.m., it arrived at Winnemucca, another crew-change point. The incoming engineer said the brakes functioned properly when used enroute from Elko but after making a service reduction of brake pipe pressure preparatory to stopping at the west end of the yard in Winnemucca, an unexpected additional 10-to-12 pound reduction of brake pipe pressure occurred, stopping the train sooner than intended. At the time, the engineer thought one of the crew members in the caboose had used the conductor's brake valve to stop the train with the rear end near the Winnemucca station for the purpose of alighting from the caboose at that point. Those crew members, however, said they had not operated the conductor's brake valve. They further said that the train stopped as a result of an emergency application of the brakes, which they assumed the engineer had initiated. A car inspector was located alongside the train as it came to a stop at Winnemucca. He said the train stopped as a result of an emergency brake application.

After the crew was changed at Winnemucca, Extra 3016 West was given a 500-mile brake test and no exceptions were taken. Soon afterward, while the train was standing at Winnemucca, an undesired application of its brake apparently occurred. A car inspector was near the locomotive at the time. He said this was an emergency brake application and that he waited for the engineer to call for assistance. Later, after not being called, he assumed the engineer had purposely applied the brakes in emergency. The front brakeman was walking toward and closely approaching the locomotive when the brake application occurred. He apparently did not hear the brakes apply. It was his opinion, based upon the length of time it took for the engineer to release the brakes, that the brakes had applied in service. The conductor and flagman, who were in the caboose, said this was a service application of the brakes. In any event, the engineer released the brakes and the train left Winnemucca, at 1:35 p.m.

The engineer and front brakeman were in the control compartment of the first diesel-electric unit. A road-foreman­of-engines was in the control compartment of the second unit. The conductor and flagman were in the caboose.

The Accident

Extra SP 8430 East

As this SP train approached Floka, the enginemen saw that signal 84 Rab was displaying a Diverging-Restricting aspect, which indicated to them that the WP train dispatcher had established the route for their train to enter the Floka siding at the west switch. Soon afterward, while moving at a speed of about 15 m.p.h., the train began to pass signal 84 Rab and to enter the siding. About that time, the fireman left the control compartment of the first locomotive unit to make a check of the trailing units.

The engineer reduced the speed as the train moved from the main track to the siding. While doing so, he saw Extra 3016 West approaching Floka on the main track. Shortly thereafter, before his train cleared the main track, he saw the locomotive of the opposing WP train pass his locomotive while moving at a speed which he estimated as approximately 55 m.p.h. Neither the engineer nor the front brakeman saw anyone in the control compartment of the passing locomotive. However, a man was seen to be standing on the walkway at the rear of the first locomotive unit and another man was seen standing with one foot on a side step and the other on the footboard at the rear of the third unit. This man appeared to be attempting to break the air hose connection between the locomotive and first car.

The engineer and front brakeman of the SP train stated they neither saw nor heard any indication of a brake application on the opposing WP train. The front brakeman further stated that as the caboose of the WP train passed, he saw someone sitting inside and gave him violent stop signals, but received no response. A few seconds later, while the SP train was moving at an estimated speed of 4 to 6 m.p.h. and continuing to enter the Floka siding at the west switch, the north side of the 102nd car (next-to-last) was struck at the fouling point of the main track and the west turnout of the siding. The crew members in the caboose of the SP train were unaware of anything being wrong before the collision.

Extra 3016 West

According to the front brakeman, the engineer used both the dynamic brake and the automatic brake to control the speed on different occasions after departure from Winnemucca and those brakes functioned effectively. The speed, according to the front brakeman, was about 55 m.p.h. as the train moved on the descending grade in approach to Floka, and the dynamic brake was in use at that time. Signal 4819 was seen to be displaying an Approach-Medium aspect, and the engineer initiated a service application of the automatic brakes, releasing this brake application when the speed was reduced to 35 m.p.h. Soon thereafter, apparently as the train neared signal 86 Lab, which displayed an Approach aspect, the front brakeman heard the engineer shout that there was something wrong with the air, indicating the engineer had initiated another service application of the brakes but found that his manipulation of the automatic brake valve was ineffective in reducing the speed. He then moved the brake valve to emergency position. This automatically resulted in release of the dynamic brake application, due to the manner in which the locomotive controls are interlocked. According to the front brakeman, it also resulted in an unusually short exhaust of air from the automatic brake valve, indicating the emergency brake application had not propagated throughout the train.

Evidently realizing his operation of the automatic brake valve had little or no effect on the train brakes, the engineer instructed the front brakeman to open the emergency brake valve on the left side of the control compartment. The front brakeman promptly opened that valve, but heard no exhaust of air, indicating the operation of the emergency brake valve had no effect on the train brakes. The engineer then radioed the road-foreman-of-engines on the second locomotive unit and informed him of the situation. In the meantime, as the train increased speed on the descending grade, the front brakeman hurried to the second unit, joined the road-foreman-of-engines in the control compartment, opened the emergency brake valve in that compartment, but heard no exhaust of air. Realizing his actions were ineffectual, the front brakeman, accompanied by the road-foreman-of-engines, hurried to the control compartment of the last (third) locomotive unit, and opened the emergency brake valve of that unit with the same negative results.

The road-foreman-of-engines then started to call the crew members in the caboose by radio, apparently to instruct them to apply the train brakes in emergency by use of the conductor's brake valve. Meanwhile, the front brakeman went to side steps at the rear of the last locomotive unit and, with one foot on the rear footboard, attempted to break the air hose connection between the locomotive and first car with the hope that a break in the connection would result in an emergency application of the train brakes. However, due to being in an awkward and insecure position, he was unable to break the connection. Since he also said the air hoses felt limp, it appears that little or no brake pipe air would have been vented to the atmosphere and that the brakes therefore would not have applied in emergency, even though the air hose connection had been successfully broken.

As the WP train passed the east siding-switch at Floka and approached signal 84 La, which displayed a Stop aspect, the front brakeman returned to the control compartment of the last locomotive unit. About the same time, the road­foreman-of-engines hung up the radio transmitter after making an unsuccessful attempt to communicate with the crew members in the caboose. Seeing that the rear portion of Extra SP 8430 East had not yet cleared the main track at the west siding-switch and that a collision was imminent, both the front brakeman and road-foreman-of-engines laid down on the floor of the control compartment of the third locomotive unit. At this time, the engineer apparently was standing on the walkway at the rear of the first locomotive unit, as indicated by statements of the SP train crew. A few seconds later, while the WP train was moving out of control at 45-55 m.p.h. as estimated by various crew members, its front end passed signal 84 La, which displayed a Stop aspect, and struck the 102nd car of the SP train at the fouling point of the main track and the west end of the Floka siding.

The WP conductor and flagman said that they heard no one calling them by radio after departure from Winnemucca, and that they were unaware of anything being wrong before the time of the collision.

Extra SP 8430 East

The caboose and last two cars (102nd and 103rd) of this train were derailed. The caboose overturned and stopped amongst and under wreckage as shown in the photo below:

Photo of accident Floka, Nevada
Arrow points to caboose of Extra SP 8430 East.

The caboose and last car were destroyed. The next-to-last car was slightly damaged.

Extra 3016 West

This train stopped with the front end 277 feet west of the collision point. All three locomotive units and the first 21 cars were derailed. The locomotive units overturned and stopped in positions as shown in the photo on the following page.

Photo of accident Floka, Nevada
From left, 1st, 2nd and 3rd locomotive units of WP train.

The derailed cars stopped in various positions on or near the main track and siding structures, as indicated in Plate No. 2. Fuel tanks of the locomotive units were ruptured in the collision, resulting in oil igniting and fire spreading through a portion of the wreckage. All three locomotive units were destroyed. Of the 21 derailed cars, 17 were destroyed, 2 heavily damaged and 2 slightly damaged.

Damage Cost

According to the carriers' estimate, the total cost of damages to equipment of both trains, track structures, and signal equipment was $849,854.

Casualties

Extra SP 8430 East

No crew member of this train was injured.

Extra 3016 West

The engineer was killed. His body was found under the rear portion of the overturned first locomotive unit.

The road-foreman-of-engines was trapped for awhile in the control compartment of the last locomotive unit, and could not be reached due to intense smoke from fire under that unit. He eventually managed to extricate himself and was next seen about 50 feet ahead of the wreckage, with his clothes on fire and body badly burned. Crew members of the trains extinguished the fire on his clothes and laid him alongside the track structure to await the arrival of an ambulance. Sometime later, the road-foreman-of-engines wandered from the scene without being observed. A search for him was unsuccessful until 6:30 a.m. the following day, when he was found in brush alongside the track structure about two miles west of the collision point. He was found dead, from exposure and burns over about 75 percent of his body.

Diagram of accident scene Floka, Nevada

The front brakeman was also trapped inside the control compartment of the third locomotive unit. He was extricated several hours after the accident, and was seriously injured as a result of smoke inhalation and second and third-degree burns.

Train Crews' Hours of Service Extra SP 8430 East

Extra SP 8430 East

At the time of the accident, the crew members of this train had been continuously on duty 4 hours, after having been off duty in excess of 14 hours.

Extra 3016 West

All the crew members of this train had been continuously on duty 1 hour 50 minutes, after having been off duty more than 17 hours.

Post-Accident Examinations and Tests

Signals

The signals involved were tested and found to be functioning properly.

Locomotive of Extra 3016 West

The controls of all three units of this locomotive were found in proper positions for multiple-unit operation.

Examination of the control compartment of the first unit found the independent brake valve in release position; the spring-loaded emergency brake valve in closed position; the automatic brake valve in emergency position; the selector lever in dynamic braking position, and the throttle lever (braking handle) in almost fully-open position.

All wheels and brake shoes of the three units showed evidence of recent and heavy braking action.

Except for the 26-F control valve of the first unit, all available parts of the locomotive air brake equipment were tested at the WP's locomotive shops in Sacramento, Calif., and no condition which could have contributed to the accident was found.

The 26-F control valve was taken to Stockton, Calif., and applied to the first unit of a 3-unit WP locomotive coupled in multiple-unit control. Tests revealed that the automatic brake of the first unit would not apply under either a service or emergency brake application, but that the automatic brakes of the second and third units functioned properly. The independent brake system of the locomotive also functioned properly when tested.

Examination of the 26-F control valve found that the moving section of the large diaphragm of the service valve had a cut or tear in it of about three fourths of an inch in length. Damage to the control valve indicates the cut or tear occurred as a result of the accident.

Cars of Extra 3016 West

The derailed cars were examined to the extent possible and nothing was found that could have contributed to the accident, with the possible exception of a badly twisted air hose on one end of the fifth car, a long flat car having a cushion underframe. The air hose was twisted between the end of the brake pipe and a bracket at the angle cock. The bracket was bent in such manner that it would have been extremely difficult to connect the associated air hose with the air hose of another car. The twisted condition of the air hose was found after the car had been moved during wrecking operations. Because of fresh marks found on the air hose and bracket it appears the twisted condition of the air hose resulted from the accident or wrecking operations.

Many of the derailed cars, particularly those near the front of the train, were badly burned. As a result, non-metallic parts such as air hoses were destroyed, and examination of the cars was inconclusive. Most derailed trucks were separated from the cars and could not later be matched to the cars. There was heavy damage to brake pipes and control valves. Many angle cocks and air hoses were missing. It was possible to match trucks to the first derailed car and a few other cars. Examination of the wheels and brake shoes of those cars and the non-derailed cars revealed no evidence of heavy braking action.

The brakes of the non-derailed cars were tested and found to be functioning properly.

Radio Equipment of Extra 3016 West

Tests revealed that the radio equipment on the caboose and locomotive of this train was in good working order.

Analysis

It is quite apparent the accident was the result of a defective condition in the air brake system of Extra 3016 West, the WP train. Unfortunately, the nature of this condition could not be determined because of damage caused by the impact and subsequent fire. However, considering that post-accident examination revealed evidence of recent heavy braking action on wheels and brake shoes of the three locomotive units but not on those appurtenances of the cars, it appears the aforesaid defective condition was such as to cause an obstruction to form in the brake pipe near the front of the first car or, more likely, in the air hose at the front of that car. It may have begun to develop at Winnemucca, as indicated by statements relative to apparent undesired brake applications experienced at that point.

Shortly after the WP engineer released the service brake application which reduced the speed from 55 m.p.h. to about 35 m.p.h. while the train was moving on a descending grade in approach to signal 4819 and Floka, the defective condition in the brake pipe or air hose at the front of the first car apparently worsened to the extent that it completely obstructed the flow of air in the train brake pipe system.

Consequently, when the engineer initiated a service brake application to control the speed properly in approach to signals 86 Lab and 84 La, his manipulation of the automatic brake valve was ineffective in reducing the speed on the descending grade, because of the obstruction in the brake pipe preventing a reduction of brake pipe pressure to the rear of the locomotive and thereby also preventing the air brakes of the cars from applying. The obstruction made ineffectual the subsequent attempts of the engineer and front brakeman to stop the train by moving the automatic brake valve to emergency position and opening the emergency brake valves of all three locomotive units.

Although the front brakeman said the dynamic brake was in use as the WP train moved on the descending grade in approach to Floka, there is some question as to whether this was actually the case. In any event, interlocks nullified the dynamic brake when the engineer moved the automatic brake valve to emergency position. Upon realizing that his manipulations of this valve were ineffectual, the engineer radioed the road-foreman-of-engines on the second locomotive unit and informed him of the situation. Soon afterward, the road-foreman-of-engines called the crew members in the ca­boose by radio, apparently to instruct them to apply the train brakes by operation of the conductor's valve in the caboose, but received no response to his call. Consequently, the train continued westward on the descending grade with only the automatic brakes of the locomotive applied. The locomotive brakes were insufficient to stop the train or reduce its speed on the descending grade. As a result, the train proceeded westward at increasing speed and out of control, passing signal 86 Lab; the east switch of the siding, and the front of the eastbound SP train that was in the process of entering the siding at the west switch to clear the main track. Soon afterward, while the train was moving on the main track at an estimated speed of 45 to 55 m.p.h., its front end passed signal 84 La and struck the 102nd car of the SP train at the fouling point of the main track and the west end of the Floka siding.

Apparently due to the radio equipment in the WP caboose being turned off or its volume control turned low, neither the conductor nor the flagman heard the radio calls made by the engineer and road-foreman-of-engines while approaching Floka. Thus, unfortunately, they remained unaware of the engineer's problem with the air brake system. Had either the conductor or flagman heard the radio calls and promptly opened the conductor's air brake valve in the caboose, the ensuing reduction of brake pipe pressure in that part of the train line to the rear of the obstruction at the front of the first car would have applied the brakes on all the cars and possibly stopped the train short of the fouling point of the main track and the west end of the siding. Hence, the accident would have been averted or its consequences minimized.

Findings

1. The signals of that portion of the traffic control system involved were functioning properly.

2. Extra SP 8430 East, the SP train, was entering the Floka siding at the west switch in accordance with applicable rules.

3. The brakes of Extra 3016 West, the WP train, had been tested as required and had been found to be functioning properly. However, a possibility exists that there was an incipient defective condition in the brake system at the time of the brake test at Winnemucca.

4. While the WP train was approaching Floka on a descending grade, after reducing speed in approach to signal 4819, the flow of air in the trainline became obstructed immediately behind the locomotive. Due to the obstruction, efforts made by the engineer and front brakeman to stop the train, or reduce its speed, in approach to the Stop aspect displayed by signal 84 La resulted in application of the locomotive brakes only.

5. The brake application on the locomotive was in-sufficient to retard the speed of the WP train on the descending grade. As a result, the train increased speed while approaching signal 84 La.

6. Due to not hearing radio calls for assistance, the WP crew members in the caboose remained unaware of the situation. Had they heard the radio calls and promptly opened the conductor's brake valve in the caboose, the operation of that brake valve would have applied all the air brakes of the cars to the rear of the obstruction in the train line in sufficient time to avert the collision or minimize its consequences.

7. As a result of the inability of the engineer and front brakeman to apply the brakes on the cars from air brake controls on the locomotive, and the lack of response by the conductor and flagman to radio calls for assistance, the WP train continued westward on the descending grade at increasing speed and out of control.

8. While the WP train was moving out of control, its front end passed signal 84 La and struck the 102nd car of the SP train at the fouling point of the main track and the west end of the Floka siding.

9. The nature of the obstruction in the train line of the WP train could not be determined.

Dated at Washington, D. C., this 21st day of June 1971
By the Federal Railroad Administration

Mac E. Rogers, Director Bureau of Railroad Safety

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