Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

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Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby Gadfly » Wed Dec 20, 2017 5:10 pm

I've noticed that a number of recent Amtrak wrecks were due either to distractions or excessive speed--perhaps a combination of both. Yet as an old retiree I see it as a matter of hurried, or not enough, training on the Division upon which these wrecks have occurred. Qualifying, we called it. And it seems to me that one MUST know every hill, every curve, every crossing, must be familiar with every inch of terrain the train traverses. even in the dark. I know that on NS, Safety was #1 and it just seems to me that an engineer who is not situationally aware enough to know that he is approaching a 30 MPH curve at 80 MPH, of course, should never have been allowed to operate an engine in the first place. Most railroad division in the US have anomalies from one end to the other, and you'd think that people would be responsible enough to take their duties VERY seriously and always be aware of their railroad. That doesn't seem to be happening.

Are we TRAINING new people adequately? Are we hiring every warm body that shows up, slappin' 'em in a cab and, after a short tutorial, turning them loose on an unsuspecting public? Are we emphasizing SAFETY and how SERIOUS their responsibilies are? Are we THAT desperate for help? Are we succumbing to the "romance of the rails" and trivializing just how serious and just how dangerous railroading IS? I dunno; you tell ME. But when I first saw the recent wreck and groaned, "Oh no, NOT another one", I thought there must be a trend, a common denominator. Then, as the news cameras scanned across the scene of the rail cars hanging off the bridge, I saw that curve. I figured that speed had something, no, a LOT, to do with it. Having BEEN a railroader, I see it differently than a casual viewer. That curve caught my eye right away. Then there was the reports of possibly 80 MPH in a 30 MPH speed restriction, and I thought, "ARE you INSANE".

I wasn't there, that's for sure. It just makes me wonder from MY perspective all those thoughts above, just what has changed since I was on the yards? I just don't remember so many wrecks, and I know Southern and NS simply wouldn't HAVE it. Tho NS mostly handles freight, I know their culture and they were sticklers on track maintenance and engineer safety. THAT is, ALL employee safety concerns. And always shows up when there's a derailment somewhere and it is RARELY an Norfolk Southern train (it's usually that *other* competitor :wink: ). Its a testament to a commitment to Safety. "Safety Pays Dividends".

What's going on these days??????? :(
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Re: Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby mmi16 » Thu Dec 21, 2017 10:30 pm

What I find mystifying is that NO BRAKES were applied from the engineers control stand. Brakes that were applied were done by the train itself as it derailed.

There is distraction and there is total negligent operation.

My understanding is that the straight approaching the curve is approximately 1/2 mile long - 22.5 seconds at 80 MPH with the curve visible DEAD AHEAD.
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Re: Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby mtuandrew » Thu Dec 21, 2017 11:37 pm

Moderator's Note: Moved to the Employment forum as Gadfly's allegations reflect on the railroad industry as a whole, not just passenger railroading.

If specifically discussing the Amtrak Cascades wreck, please comment in its own thread.
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Re: Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby 8th Notch » Fri Dec 22, 2017 9:46 pm

Gadfly wrote:I've noticed that a number of recent Amtrak wrecks were due either to distractions or excessive speed--perhaps a combination of both. Yet as an old retiree I see it as a matter of hurried, or not enough, training on the Division upon which these wrecks have occurred. Qualifying, we called it. And it seems to me that one MUST know every hill, every curve, every crossing, must be familiar with every inch of terrain the train traverses. even in the dark. I know that on NS, Safety was #1 and it just seems to me that an engineer who is not situationally aware enough to know that he is approaching a 30 MPH curve at 80 MPH, of course, should never have been allowed to operate an engine in the first place. Most railroad division in the US have anomalies from one end to the other, and you'd think that people would be responsible enough to take their duties VERY seriously and always be aware of their railroad. That doesn't seem to be happening.

Are we TRAINING new people adequately? Are we hiring every warm body that shows up, slappin' 'em in a cab and, after a short tutorial, turning them loose on an unsuspecting public? Are we emphasizing SAFETY and how SERIOUS their responsibilies are? Are we THAT desperate for help? Are we succumbing to the "romance of the rails" and trivializing just how serious and just how dangerous railroading IS? I dunno; you tell ME. But when I first saw the recent wreck and groaned, "Oh no, NOT another one", I thought there must be a trend, a common denominator. Then, as the news cameras scanned across the scene of the rail cars hanging off the bridge, I saw that curve. I figured that speed had something, no, a LOT, to do with it. Having BEEN a railroader, I see it differently than a casual viewer. That curve caught my eye right away. Then there was the reports of possibly 80 MPH in a 30 MPH speed restriction, and I thought, "ARE you INSANE".

I wasn't there, that's for sure. It just makes me wonder from MY perspective all those thoughts above, just what has changed since I was on the yards? I just don't remember so many wrecks, and I know Southern and NS simply wouldn't HAVE it. Tho NS mostly handles freight, I know their culture and they were sticklers on track maintenance and engineer safety. THAT is, ALL employee safety concerns. And always shows up when there's a derailment somewhere and it is RARELY an Norfolk Southern train (it's usually that *other* competitor :wink: ). Its a testament to a commitment to Safety. "Safety Pays Dividends".

What's going on these days??????? :(



Safety starts with a $ my friend, that’s the first and last problem! I would like to know how many years experience the engineer in the accident had, I feel like there are certain places along the route you just don’t forget no matter what the distraction. Like I was taught by some old timers, “when in doubt, put the brake on.”
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Re: Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby tundraboomer » Sat Dec 23, 2017 7:49 pm

While all of us who work out there have probably formed an opinion of what we THINK happened to Amtrak 501, I'm going to give the guy who was in the seat the benefit of the doubt until he's had his chance to tell his side of the story and the formal investigation has been completed.

BTW, the NTSB did not say that there was NO brake application by the engineer. Spokesperson Dinh-Zarr clearly stated that in their preliminary analysis of the lead locomotive's event recorder information, that it looked like "the emergency brake was automatically activated when the accident was occurring, rather than being initiated by the engineer". That's it. There was no mention of any braking other than the emergency application. She didn't say the engineer did not initiate ANY brake application, only that the emergency application that occurred was not initiated in the cab. Big difference. There was a question about this from someone from the media about 10-minutes into the press conference but, again, her comments were specifically referring to the emergency application and nothing else. You can watch the press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ego0e5BjzSE

That being said, in the most recent NTSB press release, the following was stated:

​WASHINGTON (Dec. 22, 2017) — The National Transportation Safety Board released Friday details gathered from the locomotive event data recorder and inward- and outward-facing cameras on Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 that derailed Monday in DuPont, Washington.

The lead locomotive’s event data and video recorders were successfully downloaded with the manufacturer’s assistance and processed in the NTSB’s lab in Washington, D.C. An initial review of the final portion of the accident sequence revealed the following information, which is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation continues:

- Inward-facing video with audio captured the crew’s actions and their conversations. A forward-facing video with audio captured conditions in front of the locomotive as well as external sounds.

- The crew was not observed to use any personal electronic devices during the timeframe reviewed.

- About six seconds prior to the derailment, the engineer made a comment regarding an over speed condition.

- The engineer’s actions were consistent with the application of the locomotive’s brakes just before the recording ended. It did not appear the engineer placed the brake handle in emergency-braking mode.

- The recording ended as the locomotive was tilting and the crew was bracing for impact.

- The final recorded speed of the locomotive was 78 mph.


So, again, nothing formal has been stated by the authorities about any type of brake application other than the emergency application that occurred as a result of the wreck. We still do not know if the dynamic brake was engaged, or if a service application was made and something caused it to be ineffective, or whether there was any brake cylinder pressure from the independent brake at the time of the accident. Nothing released to the media/public at this point tells us any of these things.

While I'm pretty sure I know what the most likely answer to all of this is, it's nothing more than speculation at this point and as far as I'm concerned our brother who was there at least deserves to tell his side and for the forensic facts to be presented before we crucify him for human error. God forbid this ever happened to any of us, this is all we would ask.
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Re: Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby Gadfly » Mon Dec 25, 2017 7:35 pm

It just seems to ME that, as I always assumed engineers had to qualify in order to run a Division, that there's a serious lack of safety indoctrination on today's railroads. My observations as simply a former (retired) NS/Southern employee come from knowing WE had to qualify on any job we did if it was something we bid on we'd never done before. In those days, we had the old train order/dispatcher/block operator system, which was a completely manual
system; literally hands-on, direct contact. We hardly EVER had a serious wreck. Yes, we had a couple over the years, but they were rare. There was a run-away on Saluda Mountain in the '60's, a collision of the Southern Crescent in Virginia in the 70's, a sideswipe accident at Barber Junction in the 80's, and the usual small derailments in yards and pass tracks. And people, of course, got time off, or dismissal the railroads are famous for. but few serious wrecks. I know personally the stress of having to keep up with trains, where they were, what track and when, and having three divisions coming into my station where I had to deal with 3 sometimes grumpy dispatchers, and a section of dark (operator-controlled) territory. Its no fun. So now I just wonder since I don't remember so many passenger wrecks OR serious freight derailments around HERE, at least. SOME-thing's going on. From one who was there a few years ago, I just don't see how someone could know(?) their territory, be qualified(?) and not KNOW intimately that there's a 30 MPH curve ahead!! :(

I rode our Piedmont Division, North End, lots of times, day and night. I wasn't a qualified engineer, but I guarantee I knew and recognized exactly where we were , even in the dark, by looking out the cab window. Honestly, I don't think there's any excuse. It should never happen! :( Yes, I wasn't there, but he's running a 79 MPH railroad and doesn't know there's speed-restricted curves ahead? C'mon now! :(

GF
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Re: Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby cobra30689 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 6:38 pm

Gadfly wrote:It just seems to ME that, as I always assumed engineers had to qualify in order to run a Division, that there's a serious lack of safety indoctrination on today's railroads. My observations as simply a former (retired) NS/Southern employee come from knowing WE had to qualify on any job we did if it was something we bid on we'd never done before. In those days, we had the old train order/dispatcher/block operator system, which was a completely manual
system; literally hands-on, direct contact. We hardly EVER had a serious wreck. Yes, we had a couple over the years, but they were rare. There was a run-away on Saluda Mountain in the '60's, a collision of the Southern Crescent in Virginia in the 70's, a sideswipe accident at Barber Junction in the 80's, and the usual small derailments in yards and pass tracks. And people, of course, got time off, or dismissal the railroads are famous for. but few serious wrecks. I know personally the stress of having to keep up with trains, where they were, what track and when, and having three divisions coming into my station where I had to deal with 3 sometimes grumpy dispatchers, and a section of dark (operator-controlled) territory. Its no fun. So now I just wonder since I don't remember so many passenger wrecks OR serious freight derailments around HERE, at least. SOME-thing's going on. From one who was there a few years ago, I just don't see how someone could know(?) their territory, be qualified(?) and not KNOW intimately that there's a 30 MPH curve ahead!! :(

I rode our Piedmont Division, North End, lots of times, day and night. I wasn't a qualified engineer, but I guarantee I knew and recognized exactly where we were , even in the dark, by looking out the cab window. Honestly, I don't think there's any excuse. It should never happen! :( Yes, I wasn't there, but he's running a 79 MPH railroad and doesn't know there's speed-restricted curves ahead? C'mon now! :(

GF


As an engineer on the north end of the Piedmont (now the Harrisburg, Hagerstown District).....I cannot agree more. NS does not believe in signs of any kind, so it is up to the engineer to remember EVERYTHING. As you remember, we have no cab signals and all of our signals are route signals. I could not imagine trying to run that territory if I couldn't navigate it in my head with my eyes closed. That was a product of my prior training (NJT)......
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Re: Engineer Distractions and the recent Amtrak wreck

Postby Engineer Spike » Fri Jan 05, 2018 11:04 pm

Who knows if the engineer just lost track of where he was, or was even distracted. I have been running for 19 years. If there is a large speed change, I usually prepare for it, sometimes early. I’m no slowpoke, but in this heavy winter weather, the brakes sometimes don’t grab well.

There have been a few times where I would question the handling of crew qualifications. When I was a new conductor, I got cut off in my terminal. Before marking up at the new terminal, I went to the trainmaster about qualifying trips. He told me to just mark up. Luckily, I had some good guys to help me learn. I also made sure to follow along in the timetable.

Gadfly, I really question some of the NS policies. With their big commitment to safety, they post the number of injuries FRA/non FRA, accidents...., on their track bulletins, by terminal.They seem to have a high number of stop signal violations. I know some NS engineers, and it appears that they get in trouble for using the air. This is stupid! Yes it is wasteful to power brake for miles. On the other hand, why take away a tool for safe train operation? How can you really depend on dynamic brakes? My carrier encourages more air use in the winter. The reason is so the wheel treads are conditioned, so they grab when needed.

Another point is one guy in the cab of passenger trains. Apparently it was not the case in this most recent incident, but was in Philadelphia, NYC, and Hoboken. The conductor is supposed to remind the engineer of restrictions, but he is not in the cab. What if the conductor gets held up, or otherwise preoccupied? I have had to divert my attention to an unruly passenger, when I was a passenger trainman/conductor.

It all comes to money. Short crew, under trained, and more restrictions on train handling. Now it is a game to try to handle it within the rules. We have had a shortage of crews. Supposedly the new trainees are getting pushed through, and marked up early. Cost cutting seems to be even more of a focus than before. It has resulted in a dangerous circumstance.
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