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10 Signal Malfunctions Reported in Late ’92 Near Train Wreck Site

January 21, 1993

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ Railroad crews reported 10 signal malfunctions late last year near the site of this week’s deadly crash of two commuter trains, and tests of the equipment were continuing Wednesday.

But while both trains’ engineers insist they had the green light, evidence so far indicates the signals worked properly, federal investigators said.

Meanwhile, there was another fatal train crash Wednesday. One person was killed and one injured when two Southern Pacific freight trains collided in Aurora, Ill., just east of a railroad switching yard, said Kane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Cannon.

Federal investigators were heading to the crash site in an industrial area of the Chicago suburb, Cannon said. He didn’t know the cause of the crash.

Monday’s collision in Gary, Ind., killed seven people and injured nearly 70. One commuter train sideswiped another at a spot near a narrow trestle where two tracks converge and overlap.

Four crew members - the engineer and conductor from each train - have been suspended with pay while the investigation continues.

Trustees of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, which runs the rail line, met privately Wednesday to discuss personnel matters and pending litigation related to the crash.

A signal light about a mile from the trestle malfunctioned eight times in October, said John Lauber, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. The problem was traced to a circuit board and corrected, but malfunctions at the same approach light were reported again in November and December, he said.

In all 10 instances, the light erred on the side of caution, meaning it removed the green light even though the tracks were clear, Lauber said.

More tests were planned on the signals Wednesday, said Bob Lauby, chief of the NTSB’s railroad division.

Investigators in Gary, about 30 miles east of Chicago, found no indication Tuesday the signals were malfunctioning at the time of the accident, Lauber said.

In interviews with investigators Tuesday, engineer David Riordan of the eastbound train said the approach light gave him clearance to proceed. Soon after, Riordan said a second signal, 473 feet from the bridge, also gave him a green light.

″He looked back down, looked, apparently, back up ... and he says that he noted the signal had dropped from clear to dark or red,″ Lauber said. Either setting tells engineers to stop. Riordan said he put on the train’s emergency brakes and stopped.

On the westbound train, engineer Willard Blewett and the conductor were in the driving compartment. They told investigators they received clearance signals from both lights on their side of the bridge.

″As they entered the bridge they saw train No. 7 ahead of them on the other side of the bridge with its headlight on,″ Lauber said.

The conductor ″said something to the effect of, ’I don’t think the train is going to stop. I don’t think he is stopping,‴ Lauber said.

The conductor heard the other train’s emergency brakes go on, but the trains collided almost immediately.

Investigators wouldn’t say which train had the right of way. The Chicago Tribune quoted an investigator it didn’t identify as saying the eastbound train never had a green light.

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