By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
The cause of death of a Clovis railroad worker moving a tank car is still under investigation, according to city and railroad officials.
Glen A. “Skip” York II, 26, an employee with Burlington Northern and Santa Fe rail yard, was killed Thursday afternoon by a derailed rail car, according to a Clovis Police Department report.
Jonathan Anderson, 20, the engine’s co-operator, told police he and York were on the catwalk on the west end of the engine’s tank car when the accident occurred, according to the report.
The tank car — which unlike a box car holds liquid — began to jump and bounce, forcing Anderson to grasp the handrail to prevent falling off, according to the report.
Anderson, also of Clovis, told police he saw York attempt to jump off to the north side of the tank car. When Anderson shut the engine down, the tank trailer derailed, pulling York under it and killing him, according to the report.
York and Anderson were working as remote-control operators when the accident occurred, according to a press release from the Brother of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a union that represents railroad workers.
The remotes push train cars around a site without requiring an engineer in the locomotive, according to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Web site.
The remotes normally are operated by a crew of two, a foreman and switchman, instead of a three-member crew led by a train engineer.
One or both workers wear a “beltpack” the size of a toaster that sends signals to a centrally located computer, which then signals a receiver in the locomotive, according to the BLET’s Web site.
Neither Anderson nor York’s family could not be reached for comment.
The death is being investigated by BNSF, the BLET Safety Task Force, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration.
“It is a tragedy that a man so young should be taken from us,” Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen President Don Hahs said. “I offer my heartfelt condolences to the York family.”
BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent said it could be awhile before investigators determine the cause of derailment and death.
“BNSF is saddened by the loss of conductor Glen A. York II and extends its condolences to Mr. York’s family, friends and co-workers,” Kent said. “It’s too early in the investigation to blame a cause on remote control. The Federal Railroad Administration has reported that remote-control operations are safer than traditional operations.”
Accidents involving remote controls have prompted rail yard workers to lobby to get the device banned, and several cities nationwide have banned their use, The Associated Press reported in December.
However, in a May 13 letter to U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Federal Railroad Administration reported that train accidents were 13.5 percent lower when operated with remotes as opposed to conventional switching techniques.
Furthermore, employee injury rates were 57 percent lower than rates for conventional switching operations.
Hahs disagrees with the numbers. He said in December that remote-controlling of locomotives is dangerous, and the two weeks spent to train conductors in remote switching is not enough time.
BNSF has converted 45 percent of its engines to remote control. By 2005, BNSF expects to complete remote-controlled implementation, according to a company press release.