Philadelphia Amtrak Accident

  • jeep334

    Posts: 406

    May 24, 2015 3:10 AM GMT
    This may long and boring but it relates to loss of life.

    I haven’t seen any talk here concerning the recent Amtrak train accident in Philadelphia. My assumption is that many folks are unfamiliar with train operation and probably aren’t that interested. I worked in the rail industry for over 30 years of which over 75% of that time was in management. The department I worked in was the Transportation Department which is the actual operating department of the railroad. All the other departments such as the Maintenance of Way (track), Mechanical (rail car and locomotive responsibility) are support teams of the Transportation Department. For 10 years I served on as a member and rotating Chair of a committee called TAP which stood for Train Accident Prevention. This team was trained in all of the other departments and analyzed all train accidents in our territory, without prejudice. I was also a Rules Instructor, conducting and examining Conductors and Engineers on the Operating Rules. In addition, I have been an expert witness in trials detailing the rail industry operation. I feel I am qualified to speak to this accident.

    We constantly read that everyone is looking at speed as the cause. Anyone with less than a high school education could give you that answer. Amtrak locomotives and cars are much lighter than freight locomotives and cars. Probably the best section of railroad can be found in the territory where the accident occurred. However, taking a 50 MPH cure at over 100 MPH is simply forcing the equipment off the rail. I would suggest that the investigators stop talking about how fast the train was moving, rather focus totally on why it was operating that fast.

    Although this will sound like a typical management answer, the cause is most likely due to human error. The investigations need to fully understand why the engineer was doing whatever he was doing. Incidentally, the woman who suggested that because t engineer was gay is really suggesting an outrageous and very sad scenario. The rail industry is probably the most diverse industry you will find in this nation. And it’s been that way for a long, long time.

    There’s talk that the windshield was struck just before the accident. I would believe the in-cabin camera and possibly the camera looking at the direction of which the train was traveling will confirm this. If in fact a vandal (not a terrorist) or maybe a bunch of kids with not too much else to do, did toss a rock or something. Think of your reaction if you were in your car and all of a sudden a projectile came at your windshield. You would think the engineer might be used to this sort of thing. Yet a natural, human response from such an incident would at least cause the engineer to be distracted for a few critical moments.

    1. Was the engineer qualified in his job? For all the tea that was dumped in Boston Harbor, of course he was qualified. He has over 2 years of engine service and was running this particular line for over two weeks. That might not sound like a lot of time but there is so much time spent ahead of this time frame of being deemed qualified that makes this idea not realistic. This simply means that he was qualified (observed and tested) by his superiors as well as by his peers. Not a simple task. If it should ever be determined that he was not qualified, the people who qualified him for the job are the responsible party. An engineer cannot simply say he’s qualified on his own.

    2. Was he ‘rested’ to work the job? This is technical. Train and Engine service employees are required to have a designated number of hours off duty to be legally eligible to go back on duty as per Federal law. His train trip into Washington DC ran late and he did not have the normal amount of time between then and returning to New York. He was legally rested but how rested was he really?

    3. Why does Amtrak operate with only one person in the cab of the locomotive? The simple answer is because it’s cost effective. Union agreements allow for this and management are thrilled at the savings but is it really the best practice? Ask any one of the families of the 8 passengers who lost their lives how cost effective this practice is. How would you feel in an airplane with only one person up front?

    4. Lastly, get the government out of the private practice sector. Congress can barely run itself let alone regulate and micro-manage an industry such as the rail industry. If any other Class A Railroad had such an accident, a cause would have been determined and corrective action would quickly follow. The employee's cell phone records would have been in the hands of the officials within a day, not more than 2 weeks. The FRA and all the Transportation Safety folks would still investigate but their conclusions would be long after the railroad was put back together and operating. Most likely their conclusions would mirror the railroad’s conclusions.

    I of course don’t know what the cause was to allow the engineer to not only operate at twice the allowed speed but to accelerate at the very end. I sincerely hope the technology (the safety and operating features of the equipment) will not turn up as the culprit. I truly believe it was human factor in that the engineer did something or a combination of somethings or something was happening wit/to him, to cause the accident. I believe he was distracted and perhaps when he snapped back to attention did not understand where he was at the time (entering a 50 MPH curve).

    I understand that simply walking down the steps from your front porch can be life threating, but I would honestly hope that with the knowledge and financial resources that are in place for Amtrak to operate, that there would never be such an accident. The final answer lies in a labor and management collaboration of thought to remedy the factors leading up to the accident. As citizens of this country, we should expect this. As human beings and friends and relatives of those who have lost their lives, we should demand this.
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    May 24, 2015 3:59 AM GMT
    Thanks for sharing; I always like hearing about RJ guys' fields of expertise. I thought a lot of this was interesting, though like most of us I'm so far separated from the world of rail administration it's almost entirely academic from my point of view.

    jeep334 said
    ...I would suggest that the investigators stop talking about how fast the train was moving, rather focus totally on why it was operating that fast...


    In my experience this distinction is far too subtle for the news-consuming public in general, and especially for the RJ forums. I hope I'm wrong.

    Anyway, I feel point 4 could use some explanation; I'm not sure how Amtrak regulation differs from freight railroads, but while I've been impressed with how responsive the industry can be at times regarding incidents that would have been embarrassingly convoluted had they occurred in other industries, the few people I've known with involvement in the rail industry sort of *implied* (I didn't think to ask outright) that regulation has sometimes been as much help as hindrance when it comes to keeping staff levels from being cut even further in favor of automated systems. How far off is that? Would automated control systems have helped in a situation like this, if they applied at all?
  • jeep334

    Posts: 406

    May 24, 2015 4:25 AM GMT
    anotherphil saidThanks for sharing; I always like hearing about RJ guys' fields of expertise. I thought a lot of this was interesting, though like most of us I'm so far separated from the world of rail administration it's almost entirely academic from my point of view.

    jeep334 said
    ...I would suggest that the investigators stop talking about how fast the train was moving, rather focus totally on why it was operating that fast...


    In my experience this distinction is far too subtle for the news-consuming public in general, and especially for the RJ forums. I hope I'm wrong.

    Anyway, I feel point 4 could use some explanation; I'm not sure how Amtrak regulation differs from freight railroads, but while I've been impressed with how responsive the industry can be at times regarding incidents that would have been embarrassingly convoluted had they occurred in other industries, the few people I've known with involvement in the rail industry sort of *implied* (I didn't think to ask outright) that regulation has sometimes been as much help as hindrance when it comes to keeping staff levels from being cut even further in favor of automated systems. How far off is that? Would automated control systems have helped in a situation like this, if they applied at all?


    Good points and good questions. In reference to Question 4, I'm suggesting that the government keep its hands out of the rail operation business. It is far too costly to turn a profit but I think if you let a company perform on its own merits, it would be much better. Wouldn't Obamacare have rolled out better if Google or Microsoft had done the on line part? We operate with a free enterprise system and only those who know what hey are doing will do it best and will survive. As I said, the government has a difficult time doing their own work let alone operate a company it isn't qualified to operate.

    With regard to regulation of freight versus passenger, I don't think there is much if any difference. There are issues unique to each part of the industry. The real issue with Amtrak is political. Amtrak could never survive without government funding. However, it seems that any phase of government operation becomes bulky and burdensome. I worked for the census and found quickly that the process trumped the purpose every time. Procedure and justification is more important in government agencies than the service provided partly because it provides job security. The IRS and Post Office are shining examples of this. We read horror stories of how the Army pays hundreds of dollars for a toilet seat.

    My opinion is that regulation is a good thing for the rail industry. At the end of the day, it keeps the managers and the worker bees alike in check. Sure, technology like train control is a good and workable thing. But how many billions of dollars does a company have to make? How many jobs need to be abolished before there are no more jobs? I sincerely believe there is a moral and ethical responsibility that owners have to their workers and to their customers.
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    May 24, 2015 1:52 PM GMT
    Amtrak Customers should pay a ticket price based on the cost of maintaining, improving and running the business.
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    May 24, 2015 2:48 PM GMT
    jeep334 said
    We read horror stories of how the Army pays hundreds of dollars for a toilet seat.

    Army or Air Force, for their tactical airplanes?
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    May 24, 2015 6:40 PM GMT
    It's an 18th century technology that needs to be phased out . I've been fighting the insane zillion dollar "high speed" rail in California for 10 years.
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    May 24, 2015 8:16 PM GMT
    Alpha13 saidIt's an 18th century technology that needs to be phased out . I've been fighting the insane zillion dollar "high speed" rail in California for 10 years.


    Before travelling to Germany for the first time last year, and moving to the bay area this spring, I might have agreed where passenger rail is concerned, but I'm a convert. My favorite reasons would have to be the apparent mechanical efficiency and the fact that a dedicated rail system enables powerfully efficient control systems which are much more realistic in the short term than self-driven automobiles (which have to deal with human drivers in two degrees of freedom, a *much* harder problem). I realize Amtrak doesn't convey these benefits to the same extent, but it has its own positive sides.
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    May 24, 2015 8:24 PM GMT
    Thanks for the insight and your work experiences to the Philadelphia train accident. I have been watching the news and information and agree with some of your points.

    However, we have to see the problem in a much broader perspective of culture and transportation policy in the United States versus Europe or the rest of the world. I lived in New Jersey for 6-months and although I am no expert to some of RJrs or others who lived primarily in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC. etc. which is the hub of transportation for most Americans and depend on railway, busses, and mass transit to get to their jobs it is limited in scope and choice (i.e Amtrak vs. who?) I have also lived in other parts of the globe and transportation/culture and government policy varies on how those governments fund transportation systems.

    If we look at how the US progressed between 1920s through its 1960/70s it was a period of expansion of the roadway system from East to West, creating massive roadways, interstates, etc. rather than its railways transportation system. Even in San Francisco some of the trolley cars/cable cars did not survive and later became part of it. So for most Americans (yes I am generalizing so pardon here) getting in the car for a 1 mile trip sometimes is the norm, rather than using a bicycle, walking or using mass transportation. Also, our government policy was aim in sustaining roadways, and this infrastructure to help the nation grow and also keep up with demand and goods in terms of freight, and long haul transportation. In Europe, the expansion after the War II was of reconstruction and also expensive to have a car or petrol. Governments looked at curbing the automobile and creating free car zones, move to more pedestrian areas, and investing heavily in new railway systems, railway hubs. Additional, zoning laws also in Europe would allow a mixture of offices, residential areas, restaurants, etc. while in the US in some areas this is not the case an only residential areas are allowed versus a mixture.

    I agree with your point of Amtrak NOT being subsidized by the government, and let the market forces come into play with other operators to create a more sustainable and consumer dictate improvements in the field. Government could create incentives for new operators to come into the area, but it will take initiative from Washington to get it done, rather than the old politics and do nothing. The big “T” taxes is the only way I see not only for the railways system to get fixed, improved, and the use of new technologies but also that our infrastructure of bridges, tunnels, etc. getting repaired and also creating jobs that are needed in the different states. Although, it is unlikely that either party will push for this, and unfortunately just trying to keep up and repair the system is not an option. Unfortunately I foresee more tragic events of what occurred in Philadelphia and other parts of the Northeast corridor and the nation, it would be up to the public to get so enraged with Washington to get things done. The technology and means are there, but the Washington will is not.

    In terms of the causes of Philadelphia it will be interesting to see what the final NTB reports on the real cause of the accident was, and it’s a shame of the loss of life that should have not occurred for some many just returning home from work or getting back from an outing.
  • Suetonius

    Posts: 1842

    May 24, 2015 8:48 PM GMT
    There are two questions that I have never heard answers to, despite all the overblown but superficial coverage by the media:

    1. Was there a speed limit sign for that particular curve, and how far before the curve was it located?

    2. Was there a system in place, where if the engineer fails to confirm (after some set number of seconds) that the train should continue to operate at its current speed, that the train would automatically brake?

    Unless the engineer was asleep or incapacitated, I still can't fathom how he could possibly not know that the train was traveling at too high a rate of speed for a sharp curve. Even if there were no speedometer, an engineer would have to know that he had to slow for such a curve.
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    May 25, 2015 2:33 AM GMT
    I am pretty conservative but I really think we need a public/private partnership on rail in the US.I don't understand the furious hatred on rail/trolleys in some quarters.We might have to phase out passenger rail in states where it very unprofitable.But in areas where it is needed and wanted we need to invest in modern technology.Does that mean 100 billion dollars no.But we do need targeted investment in modern trains,bridges and lightvrail in major cities.
  • jeep334

    Posts: 406

    May 25, 2015 5:06 AM GMT
    Art_Deco said
    jeep334 said
    We read horror stories of how the Army pays hundreds of dollars for a toilet seat.

    Army or Air Force, for their tactical airplanes?


    I was referring to stories quite a while ago where they weren't for anything unique or technically special, simply mismanagement.
  • jeep334

    Posts: 406

    May 25, 2015 5:19 AM GMT
    Suetonius saidThere are two questions that I have never heard answers to, despite all the overblown but superficial coverage by the media:

    1. Was there a speed limit sign for that particular curve, and how far before the curve was it located?

    2. Was there a system in place, where if the engineer fails to confirm (after some set number of seconds) that the train should continue to operate at its current speed, that the train would automatically brake?

    Unless the engineer was asleep or incapacitated, I still can't fathom how he could possibly not know that the train was traveling at too high a rate of speed for a sharp curve. Even if there were no speedometer, an engineer would have to know that he had to slow for such a curve.


    In my understanding of the situation, the answers:

    1. My assumption is that the curve is a permanent slow down of 50 MPH. This is not an uncommon concurrence for such track conditions. The normal speed for that area is much higher but probably due to the curvature of the track, a reduced speed is required. There has been no mention in reports of the track being under repair and in fact it had been routinely inspected shortly before the accident. That inspection was most likely done with an FRA procedure which would have required for the inspector to physically drive over the track itself for inspection (using a vehicle equipping with steel wheels to enable it to rive on the rail as well as the highway).

    2. There is a built in safety mechanism on the engine where the engineer must respond every so often by touch. If he fails to do so, the brakes will automatically activate to stop the train. There would not have been enough time is my thought for that process to have taken place if the engineer had been away from the controls as his speed was so fast just prior to the curve. If that process had taken place well before the location, then the train would have been stopped. There is new technology that is attached to the rail where it will also control the speed if the train if moving too fast. That system is installed in many parts of Amtrak territory but not yet in the are of the accident.

    Your correct in your assumption that the engineer should have been well aware of his speed even if the speed indicator was inoperative. For this reason, I believe something seriously distracted him (which he can't remember) which caused the scenario to take place.
  • roadbikeRob

    Posts: 14303

    May 25, 2015 2:00 PM GMT
    This is just another outstanding example of our neglected, deteriorating infrastructure. Rather than spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign wars and more unneeded defense spending we should be dedicating those hundred billion plus dollars to repairing and improving our EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE. Extending I-69 from Indianapolis to Laredo does not count. That new interstate is not needed. The focus should be on existing transportation networks, not new builds.
  • jeep334

    Posts: 406

    May 25, 2015 2:23 PM GMT
    roadbikeRob saidThis is just another outstanding example of our neglected, deteriorating infrastructure. Rather than spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign wars and more unneeded defense spending we should be dedicating those hundred billion plus dollars to repairing and improving our EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE. Extending I-69 from Indianapolis to Laredo does not count. That new interstate is not needed. The focus should be on existing transportation networks, not new builds.


    +100
  • Apparition

    Posts: 3516

    May 26, 2015 5:06 AM GMT
    why on earth are trains not run by either mechanical or digital signals, with the human there for backup. It is not like they have to know how to actually drive or steer, the only control is pretty much faster/slower, it is on a track right?

    A cell phone with a gps could run the train, in fact you could make an app that people could WATCH, and alert someone to go wake up the driver in a few seconds if things are not going according to plan. Geocaching seems to be more difficult that making sure a train is at a certain speed in a certain coordinates.
  • roadbikeRob

    Posts: 14303

    May 26, 2015 11:55 AM GMT
    Apparition saidwhy on earth are trains not run by either mechanical or digital signals, with the human there for backup. It is not like they have to know how to actually drive or steer, the only control is pretty much faster/slower, it is on a track right?

    A cell phone with a gps could run the train, in fact you could make an app that people could WATCH, and alert someone to go wake up the driver in a few seconds if things are not going according to plan. Geocaching seems to be more difficult that making sure a train is at a certain speed in a certain coordinates.
    Because we are too busy wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign wars and the unneeded extension of I-69 from Indianapolis to Laredo. Investing in existing infrastructure and upgrading existing technologies is not considered "cool" or profitable according to all our politicians, their lobbyists along with all their families, friends, and flunkies.icon_mad.gif
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    May 26, 2015 2:11 PM GMT
    Apparition said... A cell phone with a gps could run the train...
    +1


    they are building out a lite rail system in Denver or at least bit by bit till maybe they run out of money or wire the whole city and burbs.
    -everything is new and clean, the original test line is now about 10years old and it is still looking more than functional.
    -there is a new line opening next March 2016 to the Denver airport. its a 20+ mile ride from the city to the DIA.
    -for example if you want to see the last tour of Chare downtown you can park for free at a park&ride lot and take the rail in
    -all my real estate is located a few blocks away from a lite rail station.

    Denver city government is funky:
    late in the late evening, if you watch, you maybe see odd un scheduled train on the tracks with a few RTD employees. yes confirmed; its a party.