Two Remote-Controlled U.P. Trains Derailed In Bailey Yard
North Platte Bulletin
October 23, 2004
NORTH PLATTE – Two remote-controlled locomotives derailed Friday near the east end of the world’s largest train yard. No one was injured.
Some 100 gallons of fuel was spilled, apparently because a fuel tank was punctured, said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis. Two teams of environmental handlers cleaned up the spill.
An unnamed spokesman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen at Bailey Yard told the North Platte Bulletin the accident was the latest example inherent in the use of remote controls on locomotives.
"They have been incredibly lucky,” the union spokesman told the Bulletin. “I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, but it is only a matter of time until there is a catastrophe” involving a remote-controlled locomotive (RCL).
A fail safe device called a “puck” should have stopped the train before it ran off the rails, the BLE spokesman said.
For two years, remote controls have moved nearly all the trains inside train yard. An operator walks along or sits in a tower, using switches on a control panel that hangs from the shoulders. He commands the train to move forward or backward, to start or stop.
Before remote controls were used, veteran engineers controlled the locomotives from inside the cab.
Now, junior employees, called ‘new hires’, operate the remote controls.
Like all trains inside Bailey Yard, remote controlled locomotives creep slowly, pulling and pushing sets of railcars, getting trains ready to head out across the country.
The locomotives apparently ran off the end of a spur track.
Critics say the operator of the remote controls cannot always see the end of the train, making it more accident prone.
Numerous RCL accidents have occurred at Bailey Yard, and even more go unreported, the BLET says.
On July 23, a remote-controlled train collided with another train near the east end of the Yard, derailing two cars.
On April 17, a remote-controlled train smashed into the side of a Union Pacific Railroad work truck, pinning the carman inside.
Other RCL accidents occurred last January, in August 2003 and December 2003. In the August 2003 accident, 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled.
The BLET has asked Rep. Tom Osborne to co-sponsor a bill by Rep. Gene Green of Texas that would prohibit the use of remote controlled locomotives on railcars that contain hazardous materials.
The derailment occurred near the Buffalo Bill Ave. viaduct, in what is known as the east end of the west trim yard.
The engines remained upright. A covered freight car, the kind that often carries automobiles, suffered slight damage. It was immediately behind the locomotive.
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