The Culprit
Photo by Pat Huemmer, copyright © April 6, 2002
Photo used courtesy of Mr. Huemmer and RR Pictures Archives

     I'm a railroad junkie. I subscribe to more than 20 different Internet groups (they used to be called "Mailing Lists" before Yahoo bought them all up) where we exchange and discuss all aspects of railroad operation, historical information, locomotive sightings, and general B.S.
     On Tuesday, the 15th of May, 2001, a strange and cryptic message came across the CSXrailfans mailing list...

Runaway train in Ohio...
CSX 8888, ex-Conrail SD40-2 with 47 cars, 22 of them loads, 2 of the loads are molten phenol.

     My curiosity was aroused. I immediately began to scan the television dial looking for information, but none was to be found. Once again Internet reporters had scooped the big-buck professionals. More was soon forthcoming...

Go here for details and video of the runaway....

     Soon another message came across the ether...

train is now stopped on fox news channel now, overhead shots appear is is doing about 25MPH,
locomotive is CSX 8888 , an ex CR. train is a yard job with 47 cars, just passed thru Findlay , Ohio.
CSX coupled CSX locomotive 8392 to the rear to slow it down and somebody got on it and stopped it.

      And then we got this report, a first-hand account of the event from a guy known only by his Ham radio ID, k8dti. He made his report at 4:18pm on the day of the Runaway, and the following are his words.

      "I was up north chasing the CSX Operation Lifesaver Special today, which operated on the former Conrail Toledo Branch between Columbus and Toledo. After getting my last northbound shot north of Bowling Green, I decided to grab some lunch. After lunch, I proceeded back north to Trombley to await the return southbound Operation Lifesaver train. While on I-75, I heard some VERY UNUSUAL radio chatter, culminating in, 'Well, where is the engineer?' 'Right here in the crew room!' A train had somehow gotten out of Stanley Yard in Toledo and was running southbound with no one aboard."

      "I saw the train at North Trombley running at about 30mph. It was a solo SD40-2 #8888, an ex-Conrail unit with about 47 cars. It tripped the detector at North Trombley with dragging equipment, but none of the others further south. I then heard the CSX 'IE' Dispatcher call the maintainers along the road that the train had run through the switches at CP 14 and were likely damaged. The pursuit by CSX employees, police, and myself began at this point. Folks, the Good Lord was watching over north central Ohio today!"

      "Thankfully, due to the Operation Lifesaver Special, there was a very high police presence along the railroad. This was crucial! Almost every grade crossing was protected when the train passed. Keep in mind, nobody was aboard to sound the horn and bell. The headlights were not on either. I caught up with the train again at Mortimer (North Findlay). Here, a CSX maintainer had placed a derail on the track to derail the train. Everyone was out of the way, expecting a horrific wreck. Amazingly, the train RAN THROUGH the derail, kicking it out of the way! Now, the city of Findlay lay ahead. By this time, all police and emergency personnel along the line had been alerted. NS & other CSX dispatchers had been alerted to prevent any intersecting lines from passing traffic through railroad crossings at grade (Galatea, Mortimer, Findlay, etc.). They were going to attempt to put the train in the siding at Whirlpool, just north of Findlay, but the fear of the hazardous material cars on the train nixed that move. It was then decided to put the train in the siding at Blanchard, south of Dunkirk. However, another idea arose. There was a northbound Q636 waiting at Dunkirk in the siding. Dunkirk has probably never seen so much excitement since the big wreck of some years ago. There was Q636 in the siding and an eastbound local on the PRR, waiting at the diamond with a clear signal. Thankfully the word had gotten out. The train accelerated going down the hill from the US 68 crossing to the diamond at Dunkirk. When the train passed, the great locomotive chase began."

      "The crew of Q636, in the siding at Dunkirk, had taken their lone SD40-2 off their train and through arrangement with the 'IE' train dispatcher, prepared to pull out of the north end of the siding after the runaway had passed and begin a pursuit. The train got by at about 45 mph, the dispatcher immediately threw the switch and 636's power got out on the main. After a few tense seconds, the switch lined and the chase began! The crew on 636 were incredible. Gung ho, they WANTED to catch that train by the sounds of their voices on the radio. They caught up with the runaway just south of Blanchard. The city of Kenton, with its sharp curves laid ahead. The lone SD40-2, now coupled to the runaway, kicked the dynamic brakes on full and got immediate results, bringing the train down to a curve safe 20mph and less. The dispatcher then arranged for the Kenton local, with a lone GP38 and a covered hopper, to get in front of the runaway, if necessary, to pace, couple up, and buffer the train to a stop. The Q636's crew and Kenton local were placed in direct contact. Q636 gave the train speed every few seconds and the Kenton local got in a tangent where they could get a jump and engage the runaway as safely as possible under the circumstances."

      "Finally, the runaway was slowed to 12mph. At State Route 31, a CSX trainmaster heroically, swung aboard and shut the throttle off on the errant locomotive and train. The Kenton local was just ahead and did not have to couple to the runaway. The situation in the cab reported by the trainmaster: run 8 throttle, 20lb reduction on the automatic, and full application on the independent."

      "Amazingly, NOBODY WAS INJURED in this! The CSX folks deserve a tremendous pat on the back and congratulations for their handling of this extraordinary situation. I was there for almost the entire pursuit, never being more than 6 miles away and always in radio range. No one lost their cool and everyone was on the same page. There was some great crisis railroading being performed by the men out there today!"

      "A few THANK GOD things worth mentioning:

  1. The train had its brakes applied and was dragging along, preventing higher speeds from being achieved.
  2. The derail at Mortimer did not work. A hazmat disaster would have likely resulted in a semi populated area, right next to I-75.
  3. No one was involved in a collision with the train. Remember, nobody was aboard to sound the horn and bell.
  4. The cities of Findlay and Kenton have some significant curves. The train did not derail!
  5. There were ample personnel along the line thanks to the OLS special today."

      "As to how all of this got started, that is up for the investigators and I cannot speculate as I have no idea what happened in Toledo. What is typed above is my own account and any errors are mine alone. I have a recording of the radio traffic during the entire locomotive chase. I will make an mp3 tonight and post it someplace for all to hear. Will advise when it is complete."

     So thanks to K8DTI we had a first-hand look at what happeed, and from a Real Railfan ™. We were now prepared to listen to the "talking heads" on TV and evaluate how well they would do on the story.

     One interesting thing about the internet is it's variety (some would say 'diversity') of opinion. The following came from a guy purporting to be a 30-year veteran of the rails, but unfortunately he's making an attribution (CSX vice-president) that can't be verified. I offer it as an example of his opinion only.

This is the story of what really happened according to the CSX vice-president for the region:

     The engineer was working at Stanley yard in Toledo making up a transfer to the NS. The conductor (it was not a one-man crew) was on the ground getting ready to make a double when the engineer saw a switch thrown against him as he pulled the double back. Rather than stop the cut of 47 cars to get off and throw the switch, he put the throttle in eighth notch and set the independent brake. The idea was to allow the engine to drift forward while he ran ahead to get the switch and then he would get back on the engine. For some reason, he missed getting back on. The runaway then followed whatever route that was last lined and that happened to the Toledo Branch, which is the old Conrail line to Columbus. With the engine in eighth notch, the brake shoes burned off rather quickly and most likely that is why the alerter had no effect. By the time the alerter gave the engine a penalty application (emergency) of the automatic brakes, there were no brake shoes left. Since the double was a yard movement, there was no air on any of the cars. That means the only brakes on the cut were the engine brakes and they were gone.
     One of the rules learned the hard way in railroading is that when you have a runaway, derail it. It may sound dangerous, but the other possibilities can be much worse. Remember, there is no one blowing warnings at grade crossings or slowing down through towns and around curves. If the railroad can derail the runaway before it does it itself, it can control the location and keep it away from populations. So an attempt was made to put portable derails in the path of the runaway, but they shattered. That is not surprising considering the speed of the runaway. With that failure, I understand CSX was taking up the rails further down the line. That would have stopped it. This had to happen before the runaway got to Columbus.
     Meanwhile, two units on a northbound train were put out behind the runaway to see if they could catch and stop it. This is a very dangerous thing to do since they have to be making good speed (reported to be up to 68 MPH) knowing that there is a train ahead of them. If the runaway derails or stops for some reason, they will plow right into it. Fortunately, in this case, they were able to couple on. By putting their brakes on, they slowed the runaway down enough that another person was able to get on the runaway engine at about ten MPH and shutdown the thottle. I expect the crew of the chase engine and the person that boarded the engine will be rewarded for their brave efforts by CSX.
     Someone asked if it would be safer to put the catch engines out ahead of the runaway. This is not normally done because it is easier to catch the runaway than to have the runaway catch the rescue engine. Remember, the exact location of the runaway at any given time is not always known, nor is its speed. Also, the coupling can better be controlled by a chase engine than by being ahead. Passed couplers at speed could derail both engines.
     The engineer reportedly had 34 years on the railroad. I've been railroading for 30+ years and have never heard of getting off an engine with the throttle in eighth notch. It is one of the dumbest moves I have heard. CSX management is questioning if it was a common practice for this engineer or maybe even an accepted practice for Stanley Yard. I am sure there is a lot of heated discussion going on today with the management of Stanley Yard. Needless to say, discussion to follow with the engineer.

     I sure agree with the "Dumbest Move" comment in the last paragraph. On another list there had been much discussion of the issue of one-man crews. The following tongue-in-cheek message was sent into the ether on the day following the incident in question. I've removed the names to protect the ..ah.. parties involved...

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2001 1:00 AM
Subject: [group name removed] The case for one-man crews.

     For anybody who did not see the news today, a "great" case was made in the question of one-man crews. I saw the last half-hour of it unfold & it would be so funny if it was not so sad, fortunately nobody got hurt. A CSX train was sitting in Toledo Yard, when the engineer got off for some reason, maybe to line a switch or ??????? The train began rolling & before anyone could react, it was cruising down the line at 40 MPH!! There was nothing anyone could do for awhile. Don't they have deadman pedals or automatic stop anymore???? The chase began, about 65 miles in all, about halfway along, an engine came in from the back, chased it down, coupled up & began slowing it with just its own brakes. The RR thought about lining a switch halfway to derail, at first, & than switching it into a dead end siding, bad ideas. Fortunately, the back engine slowed it down considerably,as it went thru towns,etc. Finally, as it went thru a small yard, it passed a local or switcher, & the engineer of it ran alongside & jumped up & got into the cab & stopped it. There were some cars of HAZMAT in the train & lucky it did not derail as some brilliant supervisors considered doing. Let's hear it for the real heroes, the engineer that coupled on & slowed it & the brave guy who jumped on & stopped it!! I believe there will be just a wee bit of an investigation over this! Of course, who will be blamed, equipment, or the poor engineer? EVERY train should have at least a two-man crew, especially the [RR name removed] & the one-man trains that it runs. What if the engineer dies or is disabled? We know now that these kind of things like runaways can & do happen, & there will only be more if nothing is done. Imagine the lonely [branch line name removed], or some other obscure branch, or siding along a lightly used track, It may take hours to find it out, & by then disaster may strike. What is better, cutting costs, or real safety/backup w/ an extra crewman??
     Maybe the boys at corporate headquarters will look hard into what happened today & come to reason. And no, this was NOT out of a movie or novel, it was the real thing!!!!!! [very revelatory comment removed]

//signed, name removed//

     Once again, it's hard to disagree. As somebody once said, when you're right, you're right!

     Also on Wednesday, the railroad gave a press release that indicated the cause of the incident...

CRTS Update #05-60
Wednesday, May 16th, 2001 at 21:05 EDT

CSXT Determines Cause of Runaway Train:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., May 16th, 2001 -- CSX Transportation Inc. (CSXT) determined today that human error was the cause of an unmanned runaway train that traveled nearly 70 miles from Toledo, Ohio, to the Kenton, Ohio, vicinity yesterday afternoon.
     The company conducted an extensive investigation in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration that included interviews with all employees involved; an analysis of the data from the locomotive's event recorder, analogous to the "black box" in the aviation industry; and a re-creation of the events at the company's rail yard in Toledo. All mechanical equipment was found to be working as intended.
     The engineer on the train, whose name was not released, told investigators that he had made an error in controlling the train. Prior to dismounting the locomotive to line a switch, he intended to engage the three types of brakes on the locomotive. He applied two brakes, but then inadvertently grabbed the throttle lever instead of the third braking lever. By the time he realized the error, he was already off the locomotive, and it was moving too quickly for him to climb aboard to stop the movement.
     "The effect would be similar to pressing down on the brake and accelerator simultaneously in an automobile, but under much more complex circumstances," said Alan F. Crown, executive vice president-transportation. "This is a good employee, with 35 years of service and clean record. He acknowledged that he made a serious error in judgment, and he will be held accountable."
     Crown said that despite the fact that CSXT has never experienced a similar incident over literally millions of locomotive moves, the company plans to inform all operating employees of the circumstances surrounding the incident, as well as alerting others in the rail industry to heighten awareness. Crown also recognized the extraordinary support of CSXT's employees and the community agencies in the emergency. "A debt of thanks goes to every agency up and down this rail line who responded," Crown said. "Their efforts were critical to ensuring the safe outcome of this incident."
     Crown added his congratulations to Trainmaster Jon Hosfeld, Engineer Jess Knowlton and Conductor Terry Forson, whose courageous actions as part of the crisis response team slowed and ultimately stopped the train. CSXT and its 35,000 employees provide rail transportation and distribution services over an 23,000 route-mile network in 23 states the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. CSXT is a business unit of CSX Corporation, headquartered in Richmond, Va.


     Billy Leazer (W.F.P.T.)

     "Human Error." OK, if you say so. But of course there's always a second opinion. Here's one of those...


     Considering that there are four types of brake on a locomotive let's examine what is being said here...
     First, I am assuming that they are leaving out the hand brake which leaves the independent, automatic and dynamic braking as the only types remaining.
     OK, so the engineer applies TWO of these before dismounting to throw a switch. He then throws the throttle lever instead of the "third" brake.
     What's wrong with this picture? Two of the brakes, the automatic and independent do NOT make your locomotive's engine rev up. The dynamic brake DOES do this. I can see how he could accidently throw the throttle lever and then while the engine is building rpm he would be in the process of dismounting. Then the engine attains enough amps to take off on him.
     What is wrong with this image is that the dynamic brake is only effective if the train is MOVING! Did this man come up too quickly on a switch that was lined wrong and try to cover himself by running ahead of the (at that time) slowing consist in an attempt to line the switch? This is the only way that I can imagine why he would activate the throttle and believe that the increase in engine rpm is what he wanted to have happen. He would have had to have had his back to the advancing unit to not notice its movement and increasing speed. The last bit of evidence supporting this theory is that there are at least two other steps that were not mentioned when dismounting a unit, centering the reverser and turning off the generator field switch which take all of two seconds.
     There is another possibility but it is more far fetched than the previous scenario. This is that he intended to throw either the automatic or independent brake lever and threw the throttle instead. The problem with this scene is that the increase in engine rpm would have had to have gone un-noticed. Thusly, he would have had to have been stone deaf! Of course he could not function as an engineer if he had been....
     The last possibility is that the "third brake" was not a brake but the 'generator field' switch. It is not uncommon for an engineer to turn this off and advance the throttle while trying to build air pressure quickly in a train line. However, normally this would have been done with the reverser centered and this would have prevented the engine from loading. While this scenario is possible, I doubt that he could have dismounted the engine before it started to move and thus would have seen his error quickly.


     Doncha just love being a Monday Morning Quarterback? How about this bit, from a "Friend of a Friend:"

     Have a friend who had that unit prior to the runaway. He noticed the alerter not working properly, and had noted it on the daily report like previous people before him. He also said something about the PCS switch, and if CSX didn't fix it... then this Alerter wasn't working.
     I may be wrong...but in my experiences, the Alerter will go off... even if the brake is applied. It will go off, if there is inactivity of the controls, if the unit is in either forward or reverse. Apparently this unit was in forward... in notch 8.
     It takes either moving of the throttle, blowing the horn, 'bailing' off of the brake, or hitting of the alerter button to reset the alerter. Any inactivity will result in the alerter going off.

     Practice Safe CSX

     And of course, a response to his response...

     Typically, the alertor or deadman feature on an older locomotive is activated when the independent (locomotive) brake is released. After that, the alertor system takes control of the automatic brake and will make a penalty brake application (immediate full service reduction) within 90 seconds after the independent brake is released, if the alertor is not "answered". To "answer" the alertor, the engineer must take positive action (operate the controls, touch the control stand "answer" button, or some other physical activity) to reset the alertor timeout.
     What most people do not know is that the alertor feature can be disengaged by turning the alertor cutout cock (a violation of FRA regulations). If this were the case, the locomotive event recorder will record the action. At any rate, the runaway scenario is possible anytime the crew does not properly secure a locomotive when it is unattended. CSX has a policy for that procedure and it is obvious it was not followed. As a former FRA inspector, I found that to be a common problem on other railroads as well.


     Here's a guy who wants to take issue with the preliminary report from CSX, giving us a lot to think about. I've removed his name and the road he works for, 'cuz he's a valued friend. Let me just say that he's an engineer for a world-famous railroad other than CSX...

     Here are the reasons that the scenario put forth by CSXT regarding the runaway train in Ohio just doesn't make sense. I suspect that they are not telling the entire truth in the matter.

  1. I can see the engineer applying the independent brake full and taking a 20# reduction on the automatic if he were to be detraining.
  2. The only other brakes on a locomotive are the dynamic brakes, and the handbrake. The only one near the throttle handle is the dynamic brakes, and there are numerous reasons why the CSX story about him getting confused doesn't add up.
    • dynamic brakes are only effective when a locomotive is moving, when stopped they will have no effect on the train.
    • locomotives equipped with dynamic brakes also have a feature which shuts them off any time there is 20# or greater in the brake cylinders. This is to prevent sliding wheels due to the combination of dynamic braking and "conventional" locomotive brakes. In this situation the dynamics should not have functioned taking into account item (1) above.
    • it is rather hard to confuse the dynamic brake control with the throttle. Granted, the handles are *similar* but the operation differs. The throttle handle is below the dynamic brake handle, and to operate it (ie: move the train) it is advanced through eight very noticeable positions, commonly referred to as "notches". This is done by pulling the throttle back *towards" the operator. The dynamic brake control does *NOT* have "notches", rather it moves smoothly througout the operational range. It is operated by moving it *AWAY* from the operator.
    • additionally, the throttle handle itself is shaped like an oval laid on its side. The dynamic brake handle is the same oval, but is situated *vertically* instead of horizontally. Yes, this is done by design to (you guessed it) avoid confusion between which one you are using. Even if this were the older style of controller used pre-dash 2 series there is a series of steps you must take before you gain control of the dynamics with the throttle handle. As an SD40-2 this unit should have been built with the new style control stand with seperate controllers.

     NONE of this is beyond an entry-level locomotive engineer's comprehension or training, and is in fact very basic. The thought of a 30+ year veteran confusing the dynamic brake with the throttle is appalling, and perhaps this guy shouldn't have been at the controls in the first place. I'd be more inclined to think that either CSXT is covering up what actually happened; or someone in the media that broke the story made a rather serious error. If this is a CSXT coverup I am very disappointed that Jacksonville couldn't come up with a better lie than this. Just wait, someone will eventually tear the official story apart in the media.

     //signed, name removed//
     [railroad name removed] Locomotive Engineer

     One good thought deserves a response, and these next two are probably indicative of (1 & 2) the general public, and (3) the semi-knowledgable railfan community.

(1)     Unlike "us," the general pubic is basically, uncaring and disinterested, so a complicated sounding bubbemisseh (story; fable) would hit the spot as far as the general public goes. Although I have been in many an FEC engine cab, I am not an engineer and could not operate the train. Most of what I know about actually running the engine comes from you good people, but I am versed in marketing and PR and can pretty much assure you that the story was given in rough form to the PR people (who know much less than any of us about operating engines) by the VP of Transportation's office who then approved it for publication. They do not have to present the exact and accurate info to the public -- what they have to do is make it sound palatable and believable.
     Now, the main question: the engineer who "allowed" it to happen has 35 years service, according to the press releases. How soon will he be retired?
(2)     Okay it sounds like the conspiracy theorists are out. Granted I am not an engineer, never even been inside a cab so I have no understanding of what makes a train go and stop, unlike some here. But what in the world would CSX have to gain by fabricating a story?
(3)     Tend to agree with pullin4you. It takes too many steps to place the controls into dynamic braking for this runaway to happen. I tend to belive that the engineer got caught by a switch set wrong, slapped the brakes on, and either left the seat with the throttle in run 8, to go and get the switch, or pulled the throttle, thinking he had the dynamics. I still tend to belive the first -- If you pulled the throttle to run 8, the noise alone would be enough to stop you dead in your tracks. I still don't think CSX has come clean on this.


     Don Phillips, that crack trasportation reporter for the Washington Post and Trains Magazine, weighed in with this column...

     Engineer's Error Sent Train on Runaway Ride in Ohio
     Don Phillips

     The Washington Post
     Copyright 2001, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved

     An engineer with 35 years of unblemished service inexplicably applied the throttle instead of a brake system as he prepared to climb out of his moving locomotive to change an improperly positioned track switch, sending the engine and 47 cars on a runaway ride through rural Ohio Tuesday, CSX Transportation said yesterday.
     With the engine running at full throttle and no one aboard, the train traveled south from a Toledo yard through Bowling Green and Findlay, defying an effort to derail it and the attempts of two chase locomotives to bring it to a stop. The two engines did slow the train, which was eventually halted when CSX official Jon Hosfeld hopped aboard at a grade crossing and closed the throttle. CSX Vice President Alan F. Crown yesterday attributed the incident to "human error." Such "human factors" are the most frequent source of tragedies in aviation, railroading and other surface transportation.
     Because the throttle was wide open, investigators strongly suspected sabotage. Officials said that until the engineer told his story, no one could imagine how a throttle could be at full power other than by a deliberate act of sabotage or vandalism.
     Normally, an engineer would be automatically dismissed for attempting to leave a moving train. But railroad officials said that before they decide on a punishment, they will take into account the 54-year-old engineer's perfect record, the fact that he was hustling to correct another mistake and his unsuccessful effort to climb back aboard when he realized his error.
     According to a statement from Crown and interviews with railroad and federal officials who asked not to be identified, the unnamed engineer saw that he was headed for a track-switching device at the Stanley Yard in Toledo when he realized that his engine was in danger of damaging it because of the way it was aligned. He said the locomotive was moving too fast for him to stop it to avoid hitting the switch.
     The other member of the two-person crew, the conductor, was elsewhere in the yard. So, with the engine and cars still moving, the engineer told officials, he fully applied all three braking systems and ran toward the locomotive steps in an attempt to leave the engine and beat it to the switch. That particular switch could be moved by hand.
     The statement from CSX Transportation, a unit of CSX Corp., said that, in his haste, the engineer jerked the throttle to full power instead of applying one of the brake systems. "The effect would be pressing down on the brake and accelerator simultaneously in an automobile, but under much more complicated circumstances," Crown said.
     Other officials said privately that engaging the system that controls the air brakes on all 47 cars did the engineer no good because it was disconnected, as usual, during operations in the train yard.
     The "independent" air brake on the engine did engage, but it was no match for the full throttle of the 3,000-horsepower locomotive. Applying the locomotive brake had an unfortunate result: It automatically disabled the locomotive's "dead man's control," which is designed to idle the engine if left unattended and to eventually allow the train to roll to a stop.
     Investigators are puzzled why the engineer grabbed the throttle lever instead of the lever of the third brake system, an electrically operated system called "dynamic brakes." Engaging this system is like down-shifting the transmission of a car. The two levers are located at different places on the engineer's stand, are shaped differently and are moved in different directions.
     Nonetheless, investigators said privately that the engineer apparently heard the engine revving before he jumped to the ground. But he told investigators that he thought he was hearing the dynamic brake system "kicking in." As that system engages, cooling fans begin howling and sound somewhat like an engine revving.

     The following is purported to be a press release from the railroad in question, but there is reason to doubt it's authenticity...

     Announcement from CSX headquarters ;o)

     Due to the escalation of fuel prices and the dwindling economy, CSX Transportation, in a continuing effort to reduce work force and conserve resources, announced today that it would run trains without crews. The first trial run was to run from Ohio to Kentucky. Although the media was alerted to a runaway train, an unidentified spokesman for CSX said all was going well until some knucklehead jumped aboard the train and put on the brakes.
     CSX estimates that overall savings from running trains with no crews would spur the economy and cause their stock to skyrocket. "We just wanted to be the first to run trains without crews. We heard the NS motto was to be "employee free in 2003," so we decided we better get on the bandwagon."

     Remember that Locomotive Engineer above who suspected CSX wasn't being entirely truthful? Another guy from the same road, who also knows a lot about locomotives, weighs in with some technical information...

     The components [name removed] was talking about with regards to the CSXT run-away are:

  1. DYNAMIC BRAKE INTERLOCK: This keeps brake cylinder pressure at 0 if the automatic brake is applied during dynamic braking. If the dynamic brake was on this would have bailed off the 20 pound automatic brake pipe application. This feature often time fails and can not be relied on.
  2. There is also a INDEPENDENT PRESSURE SWITCH: This activates when brake cylinder pressure exceeds approximately 15 p.s.i. during a INDEPENDENT brake application and will cause the dynamic brake to drop out. The dynamic brake will come back on when brake cylinder pressure drops below 15 p.s.i. (you can make it seem like you are throttling up an engine with the independent brake with this feature by putting the unit in dynamic braking and then applying the independent. This kills the dynamics, then when you release the independent brake the dynamics reengage.) Just a little method to teach the Engineer students about the independent pressure switch. :)
  3. There is also a TRANSFER CONTROL CURCUIT on SD40-2 units and newer that if tripped will not allow the unit to transfer to power from dynamics.

     [signed, name removed], Training Supervisor, [railroad name removed])

     The following bit of information was (it says here) distributed internally by CSX in response to the incident...

     Here is a copy of the report for circulation to CSX employees. This still leaves a few questions unanswered, but helps to understand it somewhat.


The Facts surrounding the incident of the runaway CSX train on May 15 at Stanley Yard in Toledo, Ohio

The circumstances involve a 3, person yard crew. The engineer was on the locomotive, the conductor was at the location where a double was made, and the switchmen was at the final spot to cut the locomotive away. After completing their double, 22 loads and 25 empties, 2898 tons the cut was pulled as instructed by the yardmaster. The yardmasters instructions included information that a switch would be lined against them for the route they were to use. The engineer failed to control the movement to permit stopping in time to line this switch properly. As a result, the engineer made the decision to dismount the moving equipment and run to line the switch for the route to be used. The switch was lined and the engineer tried to board the moving equipment. The engineers hands slipped off the grad irons and he fell to the ground. The engineer was dragged approximately fifty yards and did injure himself with scrapes and bruises to both legs and forehead. He declined medical attention but did submit a personal injury report for May 15 and is listed as out of service. Locomotive 8888 and 47 cars, without anyone onboard, traveled through several control points and Ohio cities for approximately 71 miles before the movement was stopped safely.

This is the written explanation that CSX had us review during our job briefing before going to work.

The report then tells what rules were broken.

I. Failure to control movement -- CSX Operating Rule 105/46, and 555, NORAC Operating Rule 80
II. Failure to properly handle switches -- CSX Operating Rule 104B, and 104C, NORAC Operating Rule 104
III. Mounting and dismounting moving equipment -- Safeway and safe job procedures 22, 25, and 55
IV. Failure to properly use air brakes -- Air brake and train handling rule 3.5.1

     Another published account of the incident. Not sure where this one came from...


Railroaders scratch their heads over CSX runaway incident

     Despite CSX's statement explaining the human error cause of Tuesday's runaway incident in Ohio is understandably expressed in simple terms that the media and public could understand, railroaders today questioned how a veteran engineer could have made such a mistake.
     According to CSX, events aboard SD40-2 No. 8888, which took its train on an unmanned, nearly two-hour run across Ohio, unfolded like this on Tuesday afternoon in Stanley Yard near Toledo: "Prior to dismounting the locomotive to line a switch, he [the engineer] intended to engage the three types of brakes on the locomotive. He applied two brakes, but then inadvertently grabbed the throttle lever instead of the third braking lever. By the time he realized the error, he was already off the locomotive, and it was moving too quickly for him to climb aboard to stop the movement."
     The engineer set the automatic and independent brakes, then notched out the throttle instead of setting the dynamic brakes. On the control stand on the former Conrail SD40-2 involved, one lever controls the independent brake, and one that controls the automatic brake. The dynamic brake lever sits above the throttle. The dynamics are engaged by pushing the lever forward. The throttle is engaged by pulling it toward the back of the cab.
     If you wanted to use full dynamics, you'd want to push the dynamic lever all the way forward. Instead, the engineer apparently grabbed the throttle and pulled it back into notch 8. (On certain control stands, those equipped with a selector lever, you would want to put the throttle in run 8, but move the selector lever from power to dynamic. This CSX SD40-2 was not equipped with a selector lever, although some CSX engines are.)
     In this particular SD40-2, the dynamic brake sits right on top of the throttle, but the two levers are interlocked, so both cannot be simultaneously engaged. It remains unclear why the engineer would want to use the automatic brake, however, since the train's air was not cut in.
     "But I don't even see why he'd use dynamics in that situation," said one CSX engineer. "It still confounds me the way that would happen."
     CSX's chief mechanical officer was skeptical, too, spokesman Dan Murphy said. "But he said you have to understand the circumstances," Murphy explained.
     The engineer, who had an unblemished safety record in his 35 years of service, saw his train heading for the mislined switch. Bent on preventing his train from running through the switch, he set the brakes in haste and ran out of the cab and hit the ground. He attempted to climb back aboard, but was unable to do so and sustained minor injuries while being dragged for about 80 feet, officials said.
     Railroaders said that given the circumstances, the engineer's error was possible, although certainly a freak event. And they pointed out that it would be hard to say exactly how they'd respond if put in the same engineer's shoes.
     Nonetheless, some railroaders wondered how the engineer could mistake the sound of the locomotive revving up for the telltale whine of dynamic brakes.
     "The whole thing just doesn't add up," said one railroader familiar with Conrail motive power. "An SD40 at Run 8 will blow your eardrums out."
     "If he jerked the throttle back on his way out the door, I would think he'd notice the engine revving up," a CSX engineer said. "They rev up pretty quick, and it would be wound up by the time he reached the steps. I would've known if I had done that."
     But because the power loads faster than the dynamics, the engineer said it's conceivable that the 8888's engineer could have made his way down the steps still believing his locomotive was in full dynamics. It can take 15 seconds or so for the dynamics to kick in, which would be ample time for the engineer to make his way out of the cab and hustle down the steps.
     Yet notching out the throttle also would likely produce noticeable slack action that would have indicated the train was under full power, not full dynamics, the CSX engineer said.
     There was no debate about why the 8888's alerter didn't stop the train. The alerter won't take action when the independent brake is in use, the motive power official said. The 8888's independent brakes were on, and its brake shoes were virtually burned off by the end of its 66-mile run along the former Conrail Toledo Branch.
     Still, veteran railroaders expressed amazement at the runaway.
     "The independent brake alone wouldn't stop the train. But still, to reach 50" mph running upgrade, one CSX engineer said, shaking his head. He wasn't surprised, however, that an attempt to stop the train using derails failed.
     "Those portable derails aren't meant to derail a train at 50," he said.
     Among the more bizarre incidents in the two-hour attempt to stop the train was the effort by police to activate the 8888's fuel cut-off switch by shooting it. CSX officials acknowledged today that they were aware of police attempts to disable the locomotive by firing upon it. Instead of hitting the red fuel cutoff switch, however, three shots hit the locomotive's fuel cap, which is also red, CSX said.
     The train was stopped by three employees whose efforts CSX labeled as heroic: Senior Trainmaster Jon Hosfeld, a 31-year CSX veteran; Jesse Knowlton, an engineer with 28 years' experience; and Terry Forson, a conductor with one year of service. Knowlton and Forson, aboard their locomotive, chased down the runaway from behind and slowed it from about 45 mph to about 10 mph. That enabled Hosfeld, who was following the train in his truck, to climb aboard at a grade crossing and bring the train to a stop.

     It was hard not to find a bit of humor in the incident....

     Date: Thu, 31 May 2001 16:36:34 -0000
     Subject: runaway - addendum
     Why did the police shoot at the train? I had been wondering.

     From Traffic World, 5/28/01:
     "... Sgt. Tom Gwinn intended to shoot out a fuel cut-off switch. But instead of the red cut-off switch, the undisclosed number of blasts fired by Gwinn hit a similarly red locomotive fuel cap. CSX authorized the shooting."

     The article continues,
     "Police did not read the locomotive its Miranda rights, the locomotive was not taken into custody and no charges were filed against the machine."

     Traffic World also reports that 8888 was the number most frequently played in Ohio's Pick 4 game that week.

     //signed, name removed//

     Finally, a month after the incident the AP published this account of the investigation...

     Tuesday August 14 3:05 PM ET
     Agency Won't Punish CSX for Train
     By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press Writer

     TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - CSX Transportation broke no laws and shouldn't be punished for a runaway train that barreled 66 miles across Ohio without an engineer last spring, the Federal Railroad Administration has concluded.
     The agency placed much of the blame on the engineer for making several errors that allowed the 47-car train carrying hazardous cargo to leave a rail yard on its own, but plans no action against him.
     The train rolled through Ohio farm country for two hours on May 15 at speeds up to 47 mph, until it slowed enough that another CSX employee was able to leap on board and stop it.
     The engineer had hopped off the train in a rail yard near Toledo to manually switch tracks while the train was still moving, the agency said. He thought he had set a braking system, but instead had accidentally turned up the throttle, a report said.
     ``That all of these actions were taken by an apparently well-qualified, fully rested employee with a good service record is simply incredible,'' D.R. Myers, the agency's regional administrator said in the report.
     CSX has not identified the engineer.
     The investigation focused on whether CSX violated safety procedures and looked at whether its equipment was operating properly. The agency could have fined CSX if it had found any violations, but associate safety administrator George Gavalla said Tuesday that the investigation is over.
     CSX would not comment on the report or say whether the engineer had been disciplined, said Bob Sullivan, a spokesman for the company based in Jacksonville, Fla.

     Ohio's Public Utilities Commission (news - web sites) is conducting its own investigation.

     I hope y'all enjoyed this running account of 2001's equivalent of the Great Train Robbery. The 8888 is still pulling freight for CSX and even shows up once in a while on some foreign roads. Keep your eyes open, you might spot her yourself.

The End.
Read the entire riveting story, as reported on the CSXrailfans list, Right Here.

Read the Final Report on the Incident Investigation Here.

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