Introduction To The Railroad Accident Reporting And Record-Keeping System

Statistics on railroad accidents in the United States are gathered and maintained by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Under the Accidents Reports Act of 1910, railroads were required to make a monthly report to the Secretary of Transportation of any accidents resulting in death, injury, or damage to equipment or the roadbed. The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 (OSHA) required all employers, including railroads, to maintain records of and periodically report on all work-related accidents and illnesses. New rules that went into effect in 1975 consolidated requirements under these two laws, resulting in today's system of accident record-keeping and reporting. The FRA currently maintains an online database of reported railroad accidents/incidents from 1975 to the present. This database lists three types of reportable incidents:

  1. Accidents with more than $6,700 damage to tracks or equipment
  2. Highway/rail crossing accident/incident
  3. Casualties

There may be some overlap in these categories: for example, a freight train hitting a cattle truck at a marked crossing might cause damage to both the truck and the train, hence the incident will be entered into both the accident and highway/rail crossing incident databases. But some accidents/incidents will appear on only one database: for example, if in the hypothetical truck/train accident only the truck were damaged, the incident would not be entered into the accident database, since no damage to railroad equipment or track occurred.

In building the following charts and graphs depicting accidents/incidents in the Eureka County study area, all three databases were used, with three exceptions as follows. First, it is not possible to search the casualty data base by county before the year 1997, as the original reports used to develop the database did not list the location of incident occurrence before 1997. It is known, however, from newspaper reports, that a fatal trespass incident took place in Palisade Canyon in Eureka County in 1983. This incident is included in the "Railroad Accidents in Eureka County" table and in graphs built from the table, but the exact time and location by milepost are not listed since the information was not available.

Second, the casualty database reports all casualties on railroad property, from fatalities to minor worker injuries. In Eureka County since 1997, there have been only two casualties reported in this database, both of them were minor sprains. These were not listed in the charts and tables because of the lack of equipment damage and the minor nature of the injury. Third, local sources (Elko Free Press, Eureka County Yucca Mountain Information Office) reported a 2003 highway/rail crossing incident at Beowawe which is not on the FRA's highway/rail crossing incident database. This incident was added.

    Four tables in Appendix B show:
  • All reported railroad accidents in Eureka County between January 1975 and February 2005 (Including the 1983 Palisade Canyon trespass fatality).   

  • All reported railroad accidents in Lander County between Battle Mountain and the Eureka County line, between January 1975 and February 2005.   

  • All reported railroad accidents in Elko County from approximately Maggie Creek to the Eureka County line, between January1975 and February 2005 .   

  • All reported highway/rail crossing incidents in Eureka County, between January 1975 and February 2005 (including 2003 Beowawe incident).   

On the following pages, major accidents are described, then bar graphs and tables are presented depicting various breakdowns of accident statistics, including a summary table, the year of the accident, reported cause of the accident, type of accident, the speed at which the accident occurred, the type of track upon which the accident occurred, the type of railroad equipment involved in the accident, the number of cars and locomotives derailed, whether any hazardous materials were involved and whether there were any releases. A derailment that took place at Carlin in May 2005, is described in the major accident section, but it is not included in any of the tables or charts, since a report on the accident had not yet been entered into the FRA database.

Major Rail Accidents in Eureka County and Vicinity, 1975 -2005

Described below are the major accidents that took place during the 30-year period. For the purposes of this report, major accidents are defined as accidents with more than $500,000 damage or a fatality.

June 9, 1980, near Barth

In this accident in Eureka County near Barth, irregular (buckled or sunken ) tracks caused the derailment of a 3-locomotive, 115-car freight train. Twenty-six cars were derailed. Total damage to equipment was $841,600; to the track, $63,850. There were no fatalities, injuries or hazardous releases.

July 1983, Palisade Canyon

In this accident, a four-wheel-drive vehicle on the tracks in Palisade Canyon was struck by a freight train. Of the four passengers in the vehicle, three were injured, and a Carlin man, 26-year-old Donald Burke, was killed. (Elko Daily Free Press.) There was no reported damage to the freight train. This accident was not reported on the FRA accident database, since there was no damage to tracks or equipment. It was not a part of the highway/rail crossing incident database, since the incident did not take place at a crossing. It was reported in the casualty database.

May 28, 1984, Humboldt River near Dunphy

In this Eureka County accident, high water had eroded away part of an embankment, weakening the support structure of a bridge over the Humboldt River, and softening the trackbed west of the bridge. The bridge collapsed, causing the derailment of a 4-locomotive, 77-car freight train. A total of thirty cars and two locomotives were derailed. Total damage to the tracks and equipment was $1,298,000. There were no fatalities, injuries or hazardous releases.

January 8, 1992, near Mosel

In this accident near Mosel in Lander County, brakes apparently were set on a wheel of one of the locomotives on a 2-locomotive, 106-car freight train. This caused a flat spot to develop on the wheel, which rolled when it hit the west switch at Mosel, breaking the rail. Twenty-one cars were then derailed. Total damage to equipment and tracks was $818,237. Twenty-four cars on the train were carrying hazardous materials; none of these cars were damaged or derailed. There were no fatalities or injuries.

April 15, 1996 near Carlin

In this accident in Elko County near Carlin, 30 cars of a freight train carrying coal derailed. No cause was determined for the accident. Total damage to equipment was $653,104; to the track, $40,000. There were no fatalities, injuries or hazardous releases.

June 25, 2001, Battle Mountain

In this accident, which took place at 12:45 a.m. on June 25, 2001, near Battle Mountain, a broken rail caused the derailment of a 5-locomotive, 111-car freight train. Forty-three cars derailed, including a tank car carrying toluene, a petrochemical and organic solvent. This tank car ruptured and approximately 1,541 gallons of the flammable liquid were spilled. Total damage to tracks and equipment was $1,749,338. There were no fatalities or injuries.

May 18, 2005, Carlin

At the time of this report, this accident had not yet been entered into the FRA accident database. Eureka County's Yucca Mountain Information Office Program Coordinator was able, however, to visit the scene of the accident, take photographs, and talk with railroad personnel at the scene. The description below comes from her observations (Marshall, pers com).

In this accident, a coal-carrying freight train derailed near Carlin, next to a propane storage facility. Fifteen cars were derailed. The accident was apparently equipment-caused: railroad personnel on site said that metal fatigue on the hub of one car's wheel caused the wheel to sheer off, derailed that car and the cars following. Two full propane tank cars were parked on a siding close to the accident location. The photograph below shows derailed cars with the propane storage facility and the tank cars in the background. More photographs of the accident are in Appendix C.

A total of 69 reportable railroad accidents occurred in the Eureka County study area between January 1975 and February 2005. This includes a collision between a freight train and a trespassing vehicle, resulting in a casualty but no track or equipment damage.

In addition there were four highway/rail crossing incidents that did not result in damage to rail track or equipment, for a total number of reported incidents of 73 during this time period. In comparison to the major accidents described above, the average damage to tracks and equipment in other reported accidents during the 30-year period was $35,653.

Table of Contents  |  Executive Summary
Home – Yucca

Back  —  Next