Increased risk for switching fatalities around the holidays
Source: BLET
Published: December 17th 2008

CLEVELAND, Winter weather brings risk to switching operations, and all members who work in yard operations are reminded to recognize special switching hazards during winter months.

The Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) Working Group issued its quarterly advisory for December, January and February earlier this month. The report noted that switching fatalities and SOFA-defined severe injuries are historically higher in winter months and members are urged to take caution.

“Risk takes no holiday on the railroad”

The SOFA Working Group has analyzed statistics dating to 1992, and has concluded that the period from December 22 to January 14 is particularly problematic.

“While realizing that fatalities occur at all times of the year, there seem to be a cluster in this 24-day period,” the report reads. “It is not clear to the SOFA Working Group why this should be. However, unfortunately, employees engaged in switching operations have lost their lives around the holiday season.”

Members are reminded to remain focused on the tasks at hand during the busy holiday season.

“Stay on your feet, not on your seat”

The SOFA Working Group also reported that injuries resulting from slips, trips and falls always increase in winter months.

Of 1,448 severe injuries, 605 — 41.8 percent — resulted from slips, trips and falls.

Slips, trips and falls can occur due to many things (oil, grease or other slippery substances, ballast, spike, etc…). However, members should be increasingly aware of climatic conditions (snow, ice, etc…) during winter months.

Summaries of 2008 Switching Fatalities to-date
(based on preliminary information)
12 Switching Fatalities

January 08 – UP – Waukegan, IL
A UP conductor, working a METRA commuter train, was struck by another METRA commuter train while he was stooped over the crossover switch connecting the two main tracks located just South of the passenger station.

February 03 – NS – Chicago, IL
A brakeman, working between cars in his train, stepped out from between two cars and into the path of a main track Canadian National train that was passing the stopped NS train.

March 05 – WSOR – Random Lake, WI
A 50-year-old conductor was riding the side of a car into an industry when the car derailed, struck a car on an adjacent track, and resulted in the death of the employee.

May 26 – CSX – Lumberton, NC
A 45-year-old conductor was riding the leading end of 97 loaded coal hoppers and directing the move to the unloading spot by radio commands to his engine crew. Once the move was stopped, the conductor could not be contacted and was subsequently found dead, under a pile of coal located near the unloading area.

May 29 – UP – Amarillo, TX
A brakeman was riding the leading end of a four car cut of cars that was free rolling into a track. As the brakeman went to position himself to begin controlling the speed of the free rolling cars by using the handbrake, the hand brake support gave way, the hand brake apparatus broke off and the employee fell under the leading end of the free rolling cars.

June 08 – UP – Houston, TX
A brakeman was lining switches ahead of a shove move during an industrial switching operation. The brakeman was directing the shove move via radio. Radio communication ceased, the conductor went back to check on the brakeman and found him dead within the gage of the rail.

July 10 – BNSF – Minneapolis, MN
A utility employee was in the process of “bleeding off” cars on track 11 in Northtown Yard when the leading end of a shoving move passed him. Shortly thereafter, a car inspector found the body of the utility employee.

September 10 – INRD – Terre Haute, IN
An employee was riding the leading end of a two car shove into an Industrial track when the car he was riding rode up on material build-up in the crossing, derailing the car into a pile of railroad track ties and crushing the employee to death.

September 23 – CSX – Darby, PA
A 46-year-old conductor was securing his train on one main track when he was struck and killed by another train passing him on the adjacent main track.

October 15 – CSX – Decatur, AL
A 28-year-old conductor was riding a shove move into a track when the opposite side of the car he was riding struck the corner of the leading end of his train causing the car he was riding, and others to derail crushing the conductor under the derailed cars.

November 15 – MRL – Laurel, MT
A 39-year-old brakeman was assisting his conductor in making air hoses and joints on track 11. The brakeman was working from one end of the track and the conductor was working from the other end. When communication between the two ground men failed, the conductor walked back and found the brakeman lying between the rails. He had been struck and killed by a block of his own free-rolling cars.

December 03 – DRIR – Denver, CO
A 33-year-old conductor was riding the leading end of a shove move over a highway-rail grade crossing when a tractor trailer truck struck the leading car, pinning the conductor between the truck and the car he was riding and killing him.

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