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PC: More on long hood forward


    Norfolk Southern tragedy sparks
    locomotive operating debate

    In the wake of the March 25 fatal collision between Norfolk
    Southern and Conrail trains in Butler, Ind., the Brotherhood of
    Locomotive Engineers has asked the Federal Railroad
    Administration to bar railroads from running locomotives long-hood

    The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the
    collision, in which NS Detroit-Kansas City RoadRailer 255
    apparently went through a red stop signal before slicing through a
    Conrail double-stack train that was crossing the Butler diamond
    eastbound on the former New York Central main line. One NS
    crewman, Howard L. Rose of Peru, Ind., was killed as the 88-car
    NS train's diesels, SD50 6508 and SD40-2 1640, struck and crashed
    through the moving Conrail train at about the sixth car.

    In making its April 14 request of the FRA, the BLE claims that a
    contributing factor in the crash was that the NS lead unit was
    running long-hood forward. "This dangerous situation places the
    engineer on the left side of the cab, the side of the locomotive
    opposite trackside signals," the BLE said in a press release. 

    "Most signal systems are designed to be observed from the right
    side of the locomotive," BLE President Clarence Monin said. "The
    momentary loss of view of a signal as it is obstructed by the body of
    the locomotive could result in loss of information essential to the
    safe operation of the train. Railroad rules require continuous
    observance of the signal as you approach it."

    But in NS SD50's like the one involved in the Butler accident, the
    control stand is on the right side of the locomotive when it's
    long-hood forward. Does that--and the fact that many NS
    locomotives set to operate long-hood forward have the control stand
    on the right--change the BLE's position?

    "It doesn't matter whether it's on the right or the left--running
    long-hood forward still disturbs the visibility," says John Tolman, a
    BLE special representative who confirmed that the student engineer
    at the throttle of NS 255 was, indeed, on the right side of the cab.
    Tolman did credit NS, however, for switching to short-hood
    operation on its more recent locomotive orders.

    Citing the ongoing NTSB investigation, NS spokesman Rick Harris
    declined to comment on the BLE's rulemaking request. NS and its
    predecessor roads, Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway,
    traditionally ran their locomotives long-hood forward since the end
    of the steam era. Most NS diesels built since 1990, though, are set
    to operate short-hood forward.

    At one time, the railroads considered running long-hood forward a
    safety advantage in the event of a grade-crossing accident. The
    more metal between the cab and the collision, the better off the
    crew would be. Some crews prefer running long-hood forward for
    that reason. But long-hood forward operation also means that the
    crew is riding behind the locomotive's fuel tank. Tolman cited a
    1991 NTSB study of 29 accidents that involved the derailment of 83
    locomotives. Of those, 55 experienced fuel-tank damage, and 25
    experienced fires.

    Under the BLE proposal, trains would not be allowed to operate
    with the lead unit in the long-nose forward position over a distance
    of 5 miles or greater or when a locomotive engineer is at the
    controls of a train for more than one hour. The FRA says it is
    reviewing the BLE request.--Bill Stephens

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