A report on a railroad worker killed by moving railcars illustrates why pedestrians should maintain a safe distance from dangerous equipment.
The conductor was monitoring an operation called a shoving movement when the trackside ground he was walking on narrowed down significantly, causing him to get too close to the slowly moving railcars.
Conductor’s radio went silent
On April 7, 2021, the conductor, a BNSF Railway employee with more than 20 years of experience, was working with an engineer and a brakeman on a shoving movement – which involves using a special flatbed railcar to drop off and pick up other railcars – near the Dyno Nobel industrial facility in Louisiana, Missouri.
The engineer was moving the train at a speed of less than 9 mph with the conductor controlling the shoving movement from the ground by communicating with the engineer via radio.
At one point in the operation, radio communication between the conductor and engineer ceased, so the engineer stopped the train as per standard operating procedures. As the train stopped, the brakeman noticed the conductor lying on the ground next to the track.
Emergency responders pronounced the conductor dead on the scene and noted that the first signs of harm occurred on a walking space adjacent to the tracks near the incident location.
Walkway didn’t meet state standards
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found the conductor’s medical records showed that he had medical conditions that could cause difficulty walking and increase the likelihood of falls. However, with no witnesses and no video evidence of the incident, investigators couldn’t determine if these medical conditions contributed to the incident. Further, the employer had declared the conductor medically fit for duty.
While investigating the area where first responders noted the first signs of harm, NTSB investigators found the ground to be challenging terrain consisting of a narrow walkway with a steep, rocky drop-off into a drainage ditch. An inspection of the walking space conducted by the Missouri Department of Transportation at the NTSB’s request found that it didn’t meet state standards.
In response, Dyno Nobel reconstructed all of the trackside walking spaces at its facility to be 9 feet from the center of the track, making them 6 inches wider than the state’s minimum requirements.
Pedestrians should maintain a safe distance
The NTSB found the probable cause of the fatality was the conductor being struck by the moving railcars while he was in an area with insufficient walking space available to perform trackside duties.
As this incident illustrates, it’s dangerous for pedestrians to get too close to moving equipment.
Even though this specific incident involved railcars and train tracks, the principle certainly applies to other types of heavy equipment and settings such as forklifts in a warehouse or excavators at a construction site.
No matter the setting, pedestrians should never get too close to heavy equipment for a number of reasons. For example:
- equipment operators may have blind spots that prevent them from seeing pedestrians who are walking too close to the vehicle, and
- if a pedestrian falls while walking too close to the equipment there would be little time to avoid being struck, which may have been the case in this incident.