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When the tough get going

September 2017




Engineering Department employees work to restore train service on the B Line after a derailment in New Haven, Ind., on Aug. 18.


NS operations employees prove their mettle in mainline derailments

One mainline derailment is tough enough. Responding to two over the span of three days is a true test.

Operations employees rose to the challenge recently, when train derailments on the Lake Division’s New Castle Line in Royerton, Ind., on Aug. 16 and at the junction of the busy D and B lines at New Haven, Ind., on Aug. 18 threatened serious service disruptions.

Moving quickly to assess the damage and develop plans of attack, NS railroaders proved their mettle. With work progressing around the clock, dozens of transportation, mechanical, and engineering department employees joined forces to safely and efficiently restore service to the New Castle Line within 18 hours. They had traffic running on the B Line in less than 19 hours and on the D Line within 32 hours.

While operations departments work diligently to prevent derailments, they know that restoring train service as rapidly and safely as possible is essential if one does occur.

“If departmental boundary lines or silos exist, they do not exist when it comes to clearing a derailment,” said Gary Shepard, division superintendent, Lake.  “The departments worked together, and it was just an overwhelmingly positive response. It was just a phenomenal job by our mechanical people, our signals people, our engineering people, the train service employees, and all the supervisors, coordinating with the dispatch center.”

Here are high-level highlights of the expertly choreographed response at both derailment sites:

  • Transportation train and engine employees worked to move the front and rear train sections that didn’t derail, clearing grade crossings that were blocked initially.

  • Mechanical employees worked alongside NS contractors called in with cranes to rerail or move derailed cars to clear the way for track repairs.

  • Engineering maintenance-of-way employees hustled to cut out and remove damaged track infrastructure and install 42-foot-long track panels prebuilt at NS’ Roanoke Material Yard and shipped to strategic locations on every division for use after a derailment or other emergency.

  • Engineering communications and signals employees repaired and replaced damaged signals, switches, and cables, and then performed all necessary testing to ensure trains could safely operate on the lines.

All about planning, teamwork, and communication

It wasn’t just a Lake Division response, either, Shepard said. Also joining the effort were the adjacent Central, Dearborn, and Illinois divisions, along with the Southern Region and other work groups – including network and service design, safety and environmental, and claims. Shepard credited Joshua Booker, Lake’s assistant division superintendent, for leading the response to the New Haven derailment. Shepard had left for a planned vacation after the Royerton derailment, but remained in communication to offer assistance.

“We got on conference calls with the adjacent divisions and with our service design people in Atlanta and quickly determined which trains needed to be rerouted to keep traffic moving and which ones we could stage and run later,” Shepard said. “Everybody gave what they needed to give. It was just a real team effort.” 

No one was injured in either derailment, and, partly due to NS’ quick response, they did not cause significant disruptions in the communities.

On Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 12:30 p.m. in Royerton, an NS merchandise train headed south to Macon, Ga., derailed seven cars, including a tank car loaded with ethanol, a federally regulated hazardous material. The tank car did not leak and never posed an imminent threat to public safety. The incident occurred about 10 minutes away from NS’ terminal in Muncie.

“Our employees were out there within a matter of minutes to help,” said Ron Haines, assistant superintendent dispatch. Haines, who works at division headquarters in Fort Wayne, knew something was amiss when the chief dispatcher alerted him that the train crew reported the train had gone into emergency braking, and the switch at the location was blinking out of correspondence on the dispatch system computer screen.

“Those are never good combinations, so we started the ball rolling and were on the move before we knew they were derailed,” Haines said.

Two days later, on Friday at about 10:45 p.m., an NS intermodal train derailed nine cars in New Haven, just beyond NS’ Fort Wayne terminal. The cars derailed on the diamond where the B and D mainlines intersect, blocking both lines. The B Line moves freight between Chicago and Bellevue, a critical line, and D Line links Detroit to Kansas City.

Transportation knew that some “hot” auto traffic was scheduled to run on the D Line over the next several hours. A quick assessment showed that the trains could be rerouted around the derailment on another line without too much delay. With an alternate route for D Line traffic, NS responders focused on clearing the B Line first.

After that, a couple of key decisions were made quickly: first, to determine a plan of action to clear the derailed cars, including taking care of customers’ freight; and second, to clear them in the most efficient way so that engineering employees could start work replacing track, signals, and switches that were damaged.

Making the right moves

The Mechanical Department oversees clearing or rerailing derailed equipment.

“You make your moves so that you’re giving the next group behind, which is engineering and signals, some place to start, so that they’re working and not waiting for us,” said Richard French, division manager mechanical operations on the Lake, who led that effort. “We were working in unison, so that when we’re done, we’re out of their way. That speeds up the process.”

“Once they cleared the cars, we cut and took out the damaged track, moved it out of the way, slid our newly built panels in the hole, put stone in, and surfaced them,” said Brent Emerson, division engineer on the Lake.

“The biggest thing was the planning and the teamwork,” added Daniel Gold, assistant division manager C&S. “The maintenance-of-way employees were 100 percent willing to help with anything we needed, as far as moving equipment around for us and making sure we had time to get in there and get our work done.”

Transportation employees, he said, stepped up to help flag a grade crossing while C&S employees made signal repairs.

About 80 Engineering Department employees from 10 of the Lake Division’s 12 operating territories responded to the New Haven derailment, starting in the early morning hours Saturday, Emerson said.

“What was amazing is that we got all of those people on a Saturday,” Emerson said. “I’m extremely proud of the whole division, for the response and the hard work. To see them all come together and work next to people they don’t normally work beside and to accomplish the work they did in a short amount of time is phenomenal.”

“The key is that everybody worked together,” said Jim Wentzel, division manager C&S, who was on vacation during the derailments but monitored progress through Gold. “We know what each department has to do to get their work done and to put things back to the way they’re supposed to be.”