RAILROAD ACCIDENT REPORT: HAZARDOUS MATERIALS ACCIDENT IN THE RAILROAD YARD OF THE NORFOLK AND WESTERN RAILWAY AT DECATUR, ILLINOIS, JULY 19, 1974

GATX 41623 and four other tank cars loaded with isobutane gas were uncoupled at the west end of Decatur Yard by a switching crew and allowed to free roll eastward on yard track 11. The car impacted an empty boxcar, and its coupler overrode the tank car coupler and punctured the tank. Isobutane escaped and vaporized for 8 to 10 minutes before it exploded. The yard, surrounding residences, and commercial facilities were damaged extensively by fire and shock waves. Seven employees died from burns, and 33 employees were injured. Three hundred sixteen persons outside the rail yard were also injured as a result of the explosion. Property damage was estimated at $18 million. the National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the overspeed impact between the heavy cut of tank cars and the uncoupled light boxcar, which resulted from the release of the tank cars at a higher-than-acceptable switching speed. The lack of written guidelines to assist the switchman in determining the proper switching speed contributed to the accident. The crew members' lack of understanding of the risks involved in switching hazardous materials also was a contributing factor. Recommendations were made regarding tank head shields and couplers, employee training, hazardous materials accident data reporting, and regulations to limit losses in hazardous materials accidents.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This report contains Railroad Safety Recommendations R-75-18 through R-75-22.
  • Corporate Authors:

    National Transportation Safety Board

    Office of Surface Transportation Safety
    Washington, DC  United States  20594
  • Publication Date: 1975-4-10

Media Info

  • Features: Figures;
  • Pagination: 30 p.

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 00097295
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: National Transportation Safety Board
  • Report/Paper Numbers: NTSB-RAR-75-4
  • Files: NTIS, TRIS
  • Created Date: Jul 29 1976 12:00AM