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The Maintenance Management Blog

September 10, 2015

What's to Blame for Recent Train Malfunctions?

What's to Blame for Recent Train Malfunctions?

You may have noticed some of the recent train derailments and accidents that have peppered the local news channels in the past few months. Some are harmless enough, involving a chemical spill that is easily cleaned up or a delay in arrival times. Others, however, are much more deadly. What causes these derailments, and what can we, as maintenance professionals, do to prevent them?

When an airplane crashes, big or small, you tend to see footage of the aftermath plastered on the news stations and local newspapers. While air catastrophes are rare, there is something about the devastation that captures the minds of people everywhere and triggers a primal fear in us. While roadway deaths and accidents are much more common, we tend to view driving as safer than other modes of transportation, such as boats and trains. In reality, however, airplane accidents occur far less frequently than any other tragedy involving a mode of transportation.

In fact, as safe as they may appear, trains have more reported crashes per year than our friendly neighbors in the sky. Each year, more than 30 train derailments occur, leading to financial loss, injury, and sometimes death. In fact, in 2013, nearly 900 railway deaths were reported. This may seem like a lot, but when you look at the overall number of roadway transportation fatalities for that year, 32,700 deaths were attributed to vehicular accidents involving a car or truck.

To make the picture a little more blurry, a large percentage of railway deaths have nothing to do with a train derailment. Many, if not most, occur from people getting struck while standing on the tracks.

But what causes these train derailments? Surprisingly, the culprit isn't rocks on tracks or evil villains with curly mustaches seeking revenge using some poor damsel in distress. The major cause, it turns out, has everything to do with poor infrastructure upkeep and broken rails. Other issues can lead to a derailment as well: Things such as train alignment on the tracks and bearing failure round out the second and third most common causes. But at the end of the day, these failures are all about one thing: improper maintenance.

Just as we have to maintain machinery and equipment in facilities on a routine basis, so, too, do railway companies. The problem, however, seems to lie in investment and budgeting, two issues those of us in the reliability industry are all too aware of.

As train tracks age, they need to be repaired or replaced. Better yet, they should have routine preventive and proactive maintenance in order to prevent deadly crashes and costly train derailments. While budget and investment may be a limiting factor, there are ways to maximize the work that can be done. One way is to employ the use of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to help organize the maintenance on the trains and train stations.

In a factory or warehouse setting, we need a system to track the different machines and replacement parts, and train systems are no different. From spikes and rails to engine parts, railway companies and departments of transportation have a lot to keep track of. A proper asset-tracking system (such as a CMMS) is crucial to streamline costs and respond quickly when a breakdown occurs.

Maintenance software can also benefit the railway industry by allowing managers to issue and track job orders, store important documentation and vendor information, create (and stick to) budgets, reduce energy costs, and provide reporting to CEOs, government agencies, and regulatory commissions.

While the incidence of death and injury is low and the occurrence of train derailments is significantly less than your average automobile accident, the use of a CMMS can surely help curtail these issues even further. Odds are good that if you work for Amtrak or another railway company, you are already familiar with the benefits of maintenance software. If not, do your company (and the world) a favor and let them know how this crucial piece of software can save both money and lives.


Lisa Richards

About the Author – Lisa Richards

Lisa Richards is an experienced professional in the field of industrial management and is an avid blogger about maintenance management systems and productivity innovation. Richards' undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering opened the door for her initial career path with a Midwest-based agricultural implement manufacturer with global market reach. Over a span of 10 years, Lisa worked her way through various staff leadership positions in the manufacturing process until reaching the operations manager level at a construction and forestry equipment facility. Lisa excelled at increasing productivity while maintaining or lowering operating budgets for her plant sites.

An Illinois native, Lisa recently returned to her suburban Chicago North Shore hometown to raise her family. Lisa has chosen to be active in her community and schools while her two young girls begin their own journey through life. Richards has now joined the MAPCON team as an educational outreach writer in support of their efforts to inform maintenance management specialists about the advantages in marrying advanced maintenance software with cutting-edge facility and industrial management strategies.

Filed under: trains, train safety — Lisa Richards on September 10, 2015