Rail agency blames Station Square derailment on broken rail, inspector oversights
An inspector for a Kansas-based company committed “serious oversights” in Pittsburgh last year by failing to recognize a broken rail about three weeks before it caused a major derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight near Station Square, according to a federal report.
The 11-page report released Thursday by the Federal Railroad Administration blames the broken rail for the Aug. 5, 2018 derailment. It says a track inspector for Sperry Rail Services should have recognized the problem during ultrasound testing on July 20.
Camera images from the test indicated the rail was broken, according to the report.
“It was evident that the Sperry chief operator had multiple opportunities to recognize a potential defect at the (derailment point) and follow up with a ground inspection,” the report says. “The operator’s decisions to disregard induction channel responses from the initial test and not utilize the camera images were serious oversights.”
Sperry, which bills itself as the “world leader in Rail Health solutions,” did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. Norfolk Southern officials could not be reached for comment.
Norfolk Southern inspected the track two days before the derailment, but noted no defects, according to the report. The company inspects that portion of track twice weekly.
The derailment knocked seven double-track cars off the track, several of which tumbled over an embankment nearly colliding with a Port Authority of Allegheny County light rail station along Carson Street near the Smithfield Street Bridge.
It disrupted T service for nearly three weeks, caused $1.8 million in damages to Port Authority equipment and about $1 million in damages for Norfolk Southern.
The Port Authority credited an employee with quickly aiding several passengers waiting at the station when the wreck occurred.
Port Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said the agency has yet to receive payment from Norfolk Southern for damages.
“We have an agreement in principle, and we are currently negotiating the amount,” Brandolph said.
The accident happened around 1 p.m. as a Norfolk Southern engineer and conductor were operating three locomotives pulling 57 cars northbound from Harrisburg to Conway Yards in Conway, Beaver County. The cars that derailed were loaded with household products and appliances.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .