The clear skies offered good visibility and a lookout was posted on the morning of November 30, 2018, but those factors didn’t prevent a CSX Transportation freight train from striking and killing a track welder in Estill, South Carolina.

How it happened

The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) preliminary report on the incident offers few clues as to why the accident occurred. According to the report, the accident occurred as the train – traveling at about 50 miles an hour – approached a location where a welder was at work on the track. An additional roadway worker was at the work location and had been assigned to watch for approaching trains and provide a warning to the welder. The crew members of the train told investigators that they did not realize that a person was on the track until moments before impact. They sounded the train horn and bell; however, there was no response from the roadway work group.

Experienced workers

The roadway work group consisted of a track welder and one additional roadway worker who was assigned as a watchman/lookout.[1] The welder had been tasked to repair the surface of a track frog in the switch at the North End Estill Siding switch.[2] During interviews, the watchman/lookout stated that prior to the accident the welder had told him that the work was complete. The welder and the watchman were both headquartered in Yemassee, South Carolina. The welder had about 10 years of railroad service, and the watchman had about 4 years of railroad service. 

The NTSB said it’s investigation is ongoing. Future investigative activity will focus on the CSX operating rules and Federal Railroad Administration safety standards regarding roadway worker protection. Investigators will also review and assess the effectiveness of both the internal and external oversight of the applicable rules and standards.

Parties to the investigation include CSX Transportation; the Federal Railroad Administration; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division.[3]

1. A watchman/lookout is a railroad employee who is trained and qualified to watch for approaching trains and give notice of trains in ample time for employees working on the tracks to clear prior to the train’s arrival.

2. A track frog is a component of a railroad switch that allows the wheels of railroad rolling stock to transition from one track to another. The frog is connected to the switch points by the closure rails and is the last component of a railroad switch.

3. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division spells the word “Employes” in its name with one e. Therefore, we are using that spelling in this report.