Unchecked broken rail cause of Mount Carbon, W.Va., train derailment

Mount Carbon, W.Va. , train derailment courtesy of NBC News
Mount Carbon, W.Va. , train derailment courtesy of NBC News (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

MONTGOMERY W.Va. (WSLS 10) - The Federal Railroad Administration announced Friday the cause of the February 16, 2015 CSX/Plains All American derailment in Mount Carbon, West Virginia.

The accident resulted in 27 derailed cars, a fire that ignited immediately and eventually burned for days and the evacuation of hundreds of local residents.

FRA was the lead agency tasked with responding to and investigating the February accident.

Following a thorough investigation, the FRA announced the cause of the derailment to be a broken rail, resulting from a vertical split head rail defect. The defect that eventually resulted in the derailment was missed by CSX, and their contractor, Sperry Rail Service, on two separate inspections in the months leading up to the accident.

In addition to announcing the cause of the derailment, FRA also provided a path forward to prevent similar rail-caused accidents in the future:

  • The agency announced it will release a Safety Advisory, which urges closer and more detailed inspections where defects and flaws are suspected, and stronger training for rail inspection vehicle operators
  • FRA announced it will explore the need for rail-head wear standards and potentially require railroads to slow trains or replace a rail when certain conditions pose a safety risk
  • FRA secured a commitment from CSX to require internal rail flaw operators to review previous inspection data alongside real-time data in order to assist in identifying conditions and flaws that have changed or worsened between inspections

The cause of the derailment – the vertical split head broken rail - was missed in at least two separate rail inspections in December 2014 and January 2015. Data from both inspections show evidence of the defect, but neither CSX or CSX's contractor, Sperry Rail Service, discovered the defect which led to the broken rail.

FRA has issued $25,000 fines against both CSX and Sperry Rail Service for failure to verify a potential rail defect.

The broken rail was also near the location of a previous broken rail discovered by an FRA inspector and repaired in May 2014.