Commuter trains among those snagged by Norfolk Southern malfunction
Friday, October 22, 2010; 10:31 PM
A failure of the train dispatching system at Norfolk Southern caused more than 100 trains, including some Virginia Railway Express trains on the Manassas Line, to come to a halt Friday morning, Norfolk Southern officials said.
The malfunction caused 110 freight and passenger trains in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama to stop for almost two hours, starting around 6:20 a.m., Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said. The system controls switches and signals and helps to dispatch trains. Without it, VRE officials said, train operators are in the dark, not knowing the location of other trains moving on the system.
"Norfolk Southern apologizes for the delay to Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express passengers who were traveling [Friday] morning," Terpay said. The cause of the malfunction is under investigation, she said.
VRE officials said that while the first two VRE trains on the Manassas Line were able to operate, the system failure stopped Train 326. VRE officials said Norfolk Southern gave 326 permission to move at a reduced speed to Backlick Road, where buses took riders to the Springfield Metro station.Train 328 was canceled, and Train 332 operated about 45 minutes late.
"Clearly, it causes operational issues when an entire network goes dark," VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said. "It's regrettable that this morning's service was interrupted because of the dispatching system malfunction. However, in terms of proper protocol for passenger safety, [Norfolk Southern's] decision to halt all trains was the proper decision."
Roeber said that about 8,400 to 8,900 people ride the Manassas Line daily.
As an alternative, VRE riders were able to ride Metro for free by showing their VRE tickets to station managers. The rail agency gave riders that option for the evening commute, too, although trains had resumed normal operations.
Amtrak officials said that six of their trains were affected by the problem and that delays ranged from 20 to 90 minutes.
Roeber said Norfolk Southern experienced a similar problem 10 days ago, but it didn't happen during VRE's operating hours. It also happened in November 2009; that time, two evening VRE trains were affected, he said.
Terpay said that Norfolk Southern had a computer hardware problem 10 days ago but that it was not related to Friday's dispatching malfunction. The earlier incident affected five Amtrak trains and 20 Norfolk Southern trains for two hours, she said.