Frail wheels trigger speed warning

Image copyright NTSB Image caption Experts told Metro to check over all the wheel bolts to make sure they were suitable and strong

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has told railroads to conduct and announce brake check checks on all their over-hitches and rail-overs.

It says inspections “could prove life-saving” after two trains derailed in Atlanta in February.

It says it will send out a public alert to the public and railroads this week.

The inspections will be prompted by Metro-North officials’ discovering a safety defect in two wheels of a train that rolled off the tracks in New York City.

‘Surprises on the horizon’

Federal Railroad Administration official Marvin Mickler said the FRA had received about 80 reports of wheel axle defects in the last five years.

“When you look at the numbers of axle defects to train derailments, you really get concerned,” he told ABC News.

“There are things that can surprise on the horizon, so we are telling the industry right now that they have to have this happen by the end of August.”

Mr Mickler said the warning was being issued to “first-responders, including the Fire Department, and the National Transportation Safety Board”.

He said the “initial review indicates” that the accidents in Georgia and New York involved wheels that “may have experienced degradation due to the ageing of the axle.”

Mr Mickler said the tyres – legs attached to wheel hubs – on the rear wheels were being inspected “at all points in the life of that axle”.

The report states that the brakes on the wheels could have been applied on some trains prior to the incident, and that the axle failsafe mechanisms “may have been breached”.

Mr Mickler said he was pleased the FRA and the FRA’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration were working together to ensure that the public was alerted about future safety concerns.

“Obviously, having a timely public safety alert alerts the public about what we see in the field and allows us to get a sense of what other trains around the country are doing in terms of operation,” he said.

“If there is other cases of this situation, we want to be informed as well so we can make sure that things are being done properly.”

He said the FRA’s findings “may be evidence of this issue becoming more widespread”, but that in those situations the FRA was not able to detect the defective wheels by examining them directly.

Video caption This recovered video shows tracks erupting in flames in New York in February

A composite video of a 2016 incident on a Penn Station passenger train in New York City shows the rear wheels of the train emerging from the tracks after a rubber carriage struck the edge of the train tracks.

In the video, the cars roll off the track with the wheels caught in the wheels when the train reached its maximum speed.

There were eight passengers in the fourth car at the time of the incident. They were uninjured.

A statement from Metro-North – the New York commuter rail provider – said the problem was “likely an axle issue, and our track checks during the day have found no broken or worn over-hitches or wheel bolts.”

However, before Metro-North’s statement was released it said it was “postponing inspections of train wheels until further notice”.

Video caption This photo shows commuters standing in line to enter a tunnel following a train derailment in New York

The train derailment in Manhattan caused minor injuries, but no fatalities.

New York state’s transportation commissioner said last month that officials would try to identify faulty wheels as a way to prevent a similar accident in the future.

Mr Mickler’s FRA earlier this year praised Metro-North officials after they conducted a series of follow-up inspections and found several defects.

He said they had improved their overall compliance with safety procedures, increased the frequency of locomotive brake tests, and conducted safety drills for crews.

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