Tragedy spurs rules about human errors

AIKEN --- The deadly train wreck in Graniteville three years ago has spurred new federal regulations on human errors that cause railroad accidents.


According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the new rules make such human errors accountable to the federal government, which can now fine railroad companies whose employees violate operating procedures and cause wrecks. Before, such mistakes would be handled internally by the train companies.

"It puts the onus on the railroad to not only properly train their people, but to make sure the rules are enforced and their employees abide by them," said Robert Kulat, the public affairs specialist for the Federal Railroad Administration.

The new regulations are a direct result of the Graniteville train derailment, he said. Before, Mr. Kulat explained, the FRA did not have the power to punish railroads for mistakes by fining them.

Fines could be between $7,500 to $16,000, and individuals could also be held personally liable if they violate protocols.

The January 2005 train wreck in Graniteville killed nine people, injured hundreds more and forced thousands of residents to flee their homes after two Norfolk Southern trains collided, releasing deadly chlorine gas.

The trains collided after railroad workers improperly aligned switches after parking one train in front of Avondale Mills. A second train then slammed into the parked train after it was improperly diverted because of the switch.

The federal agency says that human mistakes are the largest cause of train wrecks.

Those mistakes include improperly lined track switches, moving cars without following proper safety procedures and leaving cars where they obstruct train movements on an adjacent track.

The new regulations hold managers, supervisors and employees accountable for violations of operating protocols that result in accidents.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or


Train accidents caused by human factors*


*January through November for all years because full 2007 statistics have not been compiled.


The federal rule has three levels of accountability:

- Railroad managers must implement programs that test employees on operating rules;

- Supervisors must administer those tests;

- And employees must comply with the rules.

An employee who is given an order that he or she believes violates the rules will have a "right of challenge."

Source: Federal Railroad Administration