Shedding light on dark territory

Brother G.Y. Bailey is the second BLET member killed in unsignalled territory in 2005

(Editor's Note: BLET President Don Hahs issued the following statement in the wake of the September 15 fatal train accident in Shepherd, Texas, which claimed the life of BLET member G.Y. Bailey.)

For the second time in less than nine months, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen has lost a member to an accident that occurred in dark territory.

On September 15, Brother G.Y. Bailey of Division 62 in Houston was killed when a train collided with his parked Union Pacific train approximately 60 miles northeast of Houston in Shepherd, Texas. The accident took place on a former Southern Pacific line between Houston and Shreveport, La., known as the "Rabbit," which is now part of the Union Pacific directional operation from the Gulf Coast to points north. The line has a long history of serious train accidents due to the fact that much of the line is dark territory.

On January 6, Brother Christopher Seeling of Division 85 in Columbia, S.C., was killed when his Norfolk Southern train collided with another train that was parked in a siding. He was one of nine people to die as a result of this accident and the ensuing chlorine spill.

Even though these accidents happened months apart, on different railroads, and in different parts of the country, there are many striking similarities. In both instances, the accidents took place in dark territory. In both instances, it appears that misaligned switches contributed to the fatalities. In both instances, the parked trains were placed on a siding by crews that had expired under the Hours of Service law. In both instances, there were hazmat spills and evacuations of nearby residents.

But the saddest, most heart-wrenching part is that both of these accidents could have been prevented. A simple signal system would have let train crews know that there were misaligned switches ahead of them.

Brother Seeling and his crew had no warning that anything was wrong because they were operating in dark territory. The crew on the road freight train that collided with Brother Bailey's parked train for the same reason had no advance warning. In this day and age, it is unconscionable that engineers and trainmen must operate through freight trains in unsignalled territory.

It is time the rail industry to stop ignoring the problem of dark territory and to take the necessary and long-overdue steps to correct it. Our members and the general public should not be placed at risk because the rail industry will not make the financial investment required to provide an advanced warning signal system to railroad crews working on mainline territory.

 

© 2005 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen