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Railroad Administration Says It Wasn’t To Blame for Iowa Crash

May 13, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Railroad Administration was unfairly blamed for contributing to a fiery train collision in Iowa last summer that killed two people, an FRA official said today.

The complaint was voiced by S. Mark Lindsey, chief counsel for the agency, in a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB said last Tuesday that failures by the Iowa Interstate Railroad and the FRA to enforce train operating rules were part of what caused the July 30 head-on crash between two freight trains.

Two crewmen on a westbound train were killed when it collided with an eastbound train at Altoona. More than 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes as two tank cars containing 20,000 gallons of denatured alcohol burned for more than two days.

The NTSB blamed Iowa Interstate, which operated both trains, and said the eastbound train had been operated by a fatigued crew.

The panel also blamed the FRA for failing to act against Iowa Interstate.

Lindsey, in a letter to the NTSB, said the criticism of the FRA ″is not only unfounded; it demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of the difference between a railroad’s own rules and federal regulations, and it evidences a remarkable ignorance of FRA’s rail safety program and rules.″

The crash was caused by one train leaving too early in violation of an internal railroad order, Lindsey said.

″To state the elementary, violation of a train order constitutes a violation of railroad rules, not federal regulations; responsibility for enforcing compliance with the railroad’s own rules is the railroad’s, not FRA’s,″ he wrote.

″FRA is not the guarantor of rail safety,″ he said. ″Instead, its mission is to develop appropriate safety standards for the industry, to monitor railroad compliance and to conduct an enforcement effort that will have a deterrent effect overall.″

″FRA cannot prevent every instance of non-compliance, nor can it control the propensity for human beings to make bad decisions or to behave negligently,″ he said.

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