A remote control tragedy in Waycross

For more than nine years, the CSX railroad yard in Waycross, Ga., was the safest in America.

But that changed when the railroad began using remote control locomotives.

On January 22, a remote control locomotive struck a CSX employee in the Waycross Hump Yard, resulting in the amputation of his right leg above the knee.

Beginning in the early-1990s, CSX's Waycross Yard was the epitome of safety. Using conventional switching operations, the 60 operating employees at the Yard worked for more than nine consecutive years without an accident or injury.

Their accomplishments were so extraordinary that their employer, CSX Transportation, purchased a full-page ad in the local newspaper to recognize the workers and thank them for their professionalism and dedication to safety. They were also featured in the Spring 2003 issue of Locomotive Engineers Journal.

Unfortunately, at the time the Journal article was published, it was reported that approximately 37 jobs would be lost to remote control operations, according to Waycross employees.

Sadly, the Waycross incident is just one of many severe accidents to take place throughout the United States since wide-scale implementation of remote control operations began a few years ago.

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued recommended guidelines for the operation of remote controlled locomotives during an initial testing phase in early 2002. However, rail companies seized the opportunity and quickly expanded the "pilot project" into the full-blown implementation of remote control technology under the recommended guidelines. In other words, the operation of trains by remote control remains unregulated by any enforceable federal safety rules. To date, the FRA has failed to issue firm regulations to ensure the safety of remote controlled train operations.

Nationwide, yard accidents have markedly increased since 2002, according to statistics provided by the Federal Railroad Administration's Office of Safety. In 2002, there were 984 yard accidents. In 2003, there were 1,089, which is an increase of nine percent. In 2004, there were 1,121, which is an increase of 9.7 percent from the previous year.

The victim in the January 22 Waycross accident was life-flighted to a hospital in Savannah, Ga., for surgery and post-operative care. His fellow employees applied a belt as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding at the scene.

"This tragedy is just another example of the dangers posed by unregulated remote control train operations," said BLET National President Don M. Hahs. "It is a shame that the high level of safety established by the conventional switching crews at Waycross has not been attained by the remote control switching crews. It's clear to me that the bar has been lowered."



© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen