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Possible Reasons for Local Train Derailments

HOPKINS COUNTY, KY—The occurrence of several CSX train derailments in our region over the last few months has peaked local people’s interest. Mainly, people want to know why the mishaps have occurred so close together.

While CSX has been unable to provide a public explanation for the recent derailments, iSurf News would like to present a few railway facts and a possible theory that can be related to local derailments, which include recent occurrences in Madisonville, Slaughters, and Hanson.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Office of Safety Analysis, there have been 596 train accidents from January until April of this year, 2010.

On their official website, the FRA defines the phrase, “train accidents,” as “an event involving ontrack rail equipment that results in monetary damage to the equipment and track above a certain threshold. Lading, clearing costs, [and] environmental damage is not included.”  Of these accidents, the FRA states that derailments account for 71.98%, which translates to 429 derailment type occurrences. The FRA also lists the rates/occurrences of 5 primary causes for these accidents overall, as well as the percentage rates respective to each of the primary causes in total, which are as follows: Human Factors—190 (31.88%); Track Defects—198 (33.22%); Equipment Defects—84 (14.09%); Signal Defects—17 (2.85%); Miscellaneous Causes—107 (17.95%).     

From this data, and in conjunction with safety reports from previous years, “Human Factors” and “Track Defects” are clearly the two main causes for national train accidents. While it is quite difficult to theorize on reasons and/or actual accidents resulting from human errors, there are several track defections which show up somewhat regularly across the nation that could account for what we’ve seen locally.

A theory for local accidents and a relatively common cause for train derailments in general, can originate from excessive heat. This problem is referred to as “heat kinking.”

Basically, during multiple days of extreme heat, the temperature of steel tracks can rise sharply, causing them to expand into wavelike shapes known as "heat kinks." Sometimes, the tracks expand so far out of their normal gauge that cross ties and ballasts, which normally shore up the rail and provide structural support, can no longer do their job. Though iSurf News cannot say for certain, it is entirely possible that the recent accidents in our local area may be directly related to this type of track defect. What’s more, is that these types of track warps are somewhat common to the East Coast and its adjacent inland areas, as over 100 accounts of heat kink related incidents can be found in reports stretching from Maine to Florida this year alone. In addition, the harsh climate shifts that the East Coast and neighboring areas sees during seasonal changes—going from very cold to very hot—does nothing more than intensify the conditions a continuous rail track needs to warp.

Though it’s possible that there are impurities in the metallurgical workings of our local railways, which can also cause an increase in heat kinks (as rails with weaker heat tolerances give way to “buckling” or “flipping” much easier), there is no way to know for sure without an official statements from CSX. In addition, recent railway maintenance errors and construction techniques may have also played a part in the accidents, yet as stated above, making any kind of theory in relation to human error or improper procedure is redundant as there is know direct way of knowing as of this time.
Luke Short
iSurf News
Data Provided by the Federal Railroad Administration

© Copyright 2014 SurfKY News Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without permission. SurfKY News encourages you to share this story by using one of the social media links below.

Posted on 2/2/14
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