RAILROAD RELATED LOSSES FROM WORN RAILCAR WHEELS
Charles C. Roberts, Jr., Ph.D., P.E.
It is not unusual for an insured to own a private railroad siding or
turnout as part of their industrial operation. Freight cars are typi
cally shuttled by a railroad company onto the insured's siding for
loading and hauling of product for customers. Occasionally, sub
stantial property losses occur from derailments on the insured's
tracks during routine movement of railcars. Figure 1 shows such a
loss site where a derailment cost hundreds of thousands of dollars
of damage to the siding, roadbed, switch gear and switch.
There was also a claim from the railroad company for repair of the
locomotive and rolling stock. This implied that the insured's track
caused the derailment; a common assertion by the railroad. How
ever, inspection of the railcar wheels, which are property of the
railroad, told a different story as to cause.
Figure 2 is a view of one of the wheel flanges on the lead car that
started the derailment. The flange was badly worn and out of speci
fication. Figure 3 is a view of a wheel flange which is more
rounded on the inner surface and within specification. The problem
with worn flanges like that in Figure 2 is that the wheel will tend to
climb over a switch point rather than be directed onto the insured's
siding. In this case, the lead car derailed by climbing over the
switch point. Sharp, worn flanges have a tendency to cut into the
rail and lift off the rail, causing a derailment.
Figure 4 shows the comparison between an acceptable railroad car
wheel flange (left) and a worn flange (right). Wheel gauges are
used by railroad personnel to check the acceptability of railroad car
wheels. The gauge is placed over the flange and indicates mini
mum dimensions for flange width. Figure 5 is a view of a typical
wheel wear gauge.
As illustrated in this case, not all derailments are caused by defi
ciencies in the private owner's siding and may instead be caused
by defective railroad rolling stock. Removal of worn out equip
ment is the responsibility of the railroad during regular mainte
nance inspections, using various tools including the wear gauge of
Figure 5. The claims analyst is often at the mercy of the insured as
to notification of the loss. Some insured's notify the claims de
partment several days after the date of loss. This allows rail cars
that were involved in an accident to be reabsorbed into the railroad
system making them difficult to track and photograph. Luckily, the
insured promptly notified claims personnel and the inspection and
photographs of Figure 2 were obtained, which had a significant
bearing on establishing the cause of the loss.
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