NTSB blames crew error for 2010 Minn. train crash

Crew error likely is to blame for a head-on collision between two Canadian National freight trains that injured all five crew members in northeastern Minnesota in 2010, federal investigators said Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued its report on the Sept. 30, 2010, crash north of Two Harbors that derailed three locomotives and 14 rail cars and caused an estimated $8.1 million in damage.

The NTSB concluded the probable cause was the southbound train crew's error in leaving a siding before the northbound train had passed.

The southbound train pulling 116 cars loaded with iron ore pellets did not have authority to operate on the single main track and the northbound train pulling 118 empty cars did have authority, the report found. The southbound train was supposed to wait until the northbound train had passed but did not, the report concluded.

According to the report, the trains were operating on a track with no wayside signals to tell engineers whether the track ahead is clear or occupied by another train or work crews. Engineers operating in so-called "dark territory" must rely solely on train dispatchers.

The NTSB also noted crew fatigue and "inadequate crew resource management" contributed to the crash, WDIO-TV reported. The board said the use of cellphones by crew members on the southbound train and by the engineer on the northbound train "was a distraction to the safe operation of both trains and an indication of a clear disregard" for CN rules and Federal Railroad Administration regulations.

The report said the mechanical condition of the trains, the weather, drug or alcohol impairments, and the actions of the northbound train crew were not factors in the accident.

CN will review the NTSB's recommendations and prepare a response, said Patrick Waldron, a spokesman for the railroad.

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