Expert: Renewed Calls for Safety Will Follow Arkansas Train Collision

August 20, 2014

A deadly head-on train collision in Arkansas proves more needs to be done to improve safety, but implementing fixes industrywide likely won’t occur before a federal deadline, a transportation expert said.

Two Union Pacific crew members were killed and two others injured on Aug. 17 when a pair of freight trains collided on the same track near the town of Hoxie in northeast Arkansas. Engineer Chance Gober of White Hall, Ark., and conductor Roderick Hayes, of McKinney, Texas, died in the crash, according to company spokesman Jeff DeGraff, who said both victims were aboard the southbound train.

Federal investigators were continuing to collect evidence at the crash site on Aug. 18.

The collision in Arkansas was at least the second of its kind in recent years. In June 2012, three railroad employees were killed when trains collided near the town of Goodwell in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

In hearings on the Oklahoma accident and in numerous crash investigations before it, federal authorities called for modernizing the nation’s aging freight railroad industry.

The big push for the safeguards, known as positive train control, came after a 2008 crash in which a commuter train collided head-on with a freight train near Los Angeles, killing 25 and injuring more than 100.áCongress passed a train safety law in 2008 that requires commuter and freight trains to be equipped with PTC and set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015.

Joseph Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said the government possibly set an unrealistic timetable to have a new safety system in place by that deadline.

“I think the Congress bit off more than it could chew with the PTC mandate, and now we’re in a quagmire, figuring out a realistic timetable,” Schwieterman said. “It’s one thing to establish rules for a small industry, it’s another thing to retrofit a century-old rail system.”

Earlier this year, the Association of American Railroads said in a report that about 20 percent of the approximately 60,000 miles of track being equipped with the technology will meet the deadline. Previously, the association had estimated 40 percent would meet the deadline.

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