16 June 2017

NTSB report: train collision with a landslide in Northfield, Vermont

Posted by Dave Petley

NTSB report: train collision with a landslide in Northfield, Vermont

The NTSB in the USA has posted online a brief accident report for a train collision with a landslide at Northfield in Vermont on 5th October 2015.  This was a quite dramatic accident between a passenger train operated by Amtrack and a small rockslide.  The collision led to the derailment of the locomotive and four carriages.  One of the carriages slipped down a steep embankment; seven people were injured, four of whom were train crew.  The damage caused by the landslide exceeded $10 million.

This is an image of the aftermath of the accident from news reports at the time:-

Northfield derailment

CNN image of the derailment at Northfield in Vermont


The NTSB report includes an image taken from the forward-facing video camera located on the locomotive:-

Northfield landslide

Imagery from the video camera mounted on the locomotive of the Northfield, Vermont landslide. Image from the NTSB report


It is notable that this is a comparatively small landslide, probably caused by a failure on existing joints or other planes of weakness.  The debris appears to consist of quite large slabs, which may explain the derailment.  The train was travelling at 59 mph (about 95 kph) at the time of the collision.

The NTSB report makes some interesting observations about hazard management on this section of track:

Although the NECR [New England Central Railroad] had a safety program at the time of the accident, the NECR did not have a formalized hazard management and assessment program that addressed rock slide risk management and mitigation. Although track inspectors could notate anomalies along the right-of-way, the NECR did not keep or maintain the historical data on rock slides. The NECR had neither a rockfall detection program nor a rock face program maintenance initiative prior to the accident. After the accident, geologists identified two additional NECR locations where rock slide mitigation was recommended. The NECR implemented speed restrictions for trains at these two locations.