National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

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Re: A National Culture of Railroading Safety

Postby kilroy » Mon Feb 05, 2018 1:52 pm

Unfortunately, human like is just part of a cost calculation done by corporations today. How much does it cost to settle the lawsuit versus how much does it cost to prevent the accident. If the later is higher than the former, you get our current situation where expense technology gets delayed because it negatively impacts "Shareholder Value."

Perhaps holding executives personally liable or better yet, criminally liable, we might get things done faster.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby Morisot » Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:43 pm

Kilroy - You do realize that the "Shareholders" of Amtrak are the American taxpayers.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby Jeff Smith » Mon Feb 05, 2018 3:07 pm

I further updated the title as the two most recent issues seem to be host railroad. Cascades, ROW workers on the NEC, and the lack of PTC in the Philly incident look like Amtrak. Let’s try to keep it on topic and without the spit and vinegar shall we? It’s easier to be heard when there’s less noise. Thanks.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby David Benton » Mon Feb 05, 2018 5:13 pm

No matter what elaborate safety systems , what amount of training, humans make mistakes. ( I don't know if the term "brain fart" is used in the USA, here it has been occasionally used here by police as the only way to describe the actions leading to an accident). Of course, the more training , systems , and safety culture there is , the less chance of a mistake happening , or serious consequences arising. I am not arguing it should not be striven for, just that it is not a cure all. An accident is usually more than one thing going wrong at the same time. For e.g , speeding and a puncture, or greasy road.
I have been working with large deep cycle lead acid batteries for 20 years. I have never had a serious mishap , until a week or two ago . Hooking up a large (430ah) battery bank , I checked the connections 3 times (as they were configured in a different pattern than normal). For a split second , I though of something else, then I proceeded to put the cable on the wrong connection. Luckily, i only directly short circuited one 6 volt cell, If it was the whole 24 volt bank , I probably wouldn't be typing this.
The point is I followed procedure, actually checked more times than normal , got distracted , and made a big mistake. Now if the worst had happened, and they did an investigation, they would probably find a lot of things wrong in my workshop, none of which directly contributed to the explosion, it all came down to me been momentarily distracted. And by my own thoughts, not by anyone else.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby kilroy » Tue Feb 06, 2018 2:29 pm

Morisot wrote:Kilroy - You do realize that the "Shareholders" of Amtrak are the American taxpayers.


The tracks belong to CSX who were willing to bring in EHH and his band of shareholder value mercenaries at Mantle Ridge. A life lost is just a price to be paid to make them all richer.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby BlendedBreak » Tue Feb 06, 2018 6:41 pm

"But wait there is more"-Amtrak

Acela trainset. In training they said it is semi-permanenet coupling."Permanent" most of the time,"semi" just today.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby SRich » Wed Feb 07, 2018 3:48 am

Your point ?
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby justalurker66 » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:28 am

The point is obvious: Amtrak is having problems with safely operating their trains. Not all of the recent incidents are Amtrak's fault. But the public perception is based on a truth that cannot be denied: Amtrak trains keep getting involved in accidents.

The Amtrak vs CSX collision is not Amtrak's fault. But no mid train rail car should fold in half in a collision. Is that safe? When you see a rail car folded in half does it make you wish that you were on that train or glad that you were not? When you see train cars scattered around the ROW such as in the Cascades wreck does it make you wish that you were on that train or glad that you were not?

I believe most sane people (regardless of statistics or the reality of the incidents) look at these collisions and say that they are glad that they were not on these trains. And that is a problem for Amtrak. When people look at your product and are glad that they didn't use it that is not good for business. (And in Amtrak's case it goes beyond convincing people to be passengers. They also have to convince taxpayers to financially support a service they may never use.)

Statistically Amtrak is doing well ... hundreds of passengers were involved in the recent incidents and only three passengers died. Despite the car that folded in half no passengers were killed in the Amtrak vs CSX collision. Despite the Acela separating no one was killed. Despite hitting a heavy truck at a grade crossing no one on the congressional train was killed. One could type statistics until their keyboard wore out and prove that even the trains that are having problems are very safe.

But the perception persists. "I am glad I wasn't on that train." Every incident that occurs reinforces that statement. Especially incidents that are squarely Amtrak's fault.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby MCL1981 » Wed Feb 07, 2018 6:57 am

Why is this thread even here? It's obvious Blended Brake is just looking for another podium to spout off utter non-sense in defiance of facts and reality.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby Jeff Smith » Wed Feb 07, 2018 9:31 am

Perhaps that's the motivation, but given the sequence of events, it's a valid topic.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby StLouSteve » Wed Feb 07, 2018 1:36 pm

Lots of talk lately over who is to blame—Amtrak or host railroad. Just thought I should point out that ultimately Amtrak ends up paying for these events due to indemnification agreements with host railroads. Looks like Amtrak is likely blameless in recent siding crash into CSX freight, nevertheless, Amtrak will end up paying all the legal costs for injuries.

This is the price host railroads insist on for using their tracks.

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2004/10/15/u ... l?referer=
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby BlendedBreak » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:40 pm

MCL1981 wrote:Why is this thread even here? It's obvious Blended Brake is just looking for another podium to spout off utter non-sense in defiance of facts and reality.


FORUM: a place, meeting, or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.

and just because you 'get-it';
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby Greg Moore » Wed Feb 07, 2018 9:12 pm

I think there's a lot of good discussion here (and some of it has been covered, but worth continuing to discuss).

Someone above I believe mentioned what's known as the swiss-cheese theory of accidents. Most accidents are NOT random events. They're a series of events lining up so all the holes in the slices of cheese line up. Change one thing and no accident.

Consider for example the recent Amtrak-CSX accident. If the train hadn't been routed onto that track... if they had been proceeding at restricted speed... If the CSX train had put out torpedoes (are those even a thing still?) 1 mile ahead... if this. that etc. Many ifs.

And you can break accidents down into mechanical failure, or I'll broaden that into broader "non-human" failures. Sometimes, even these aren't clear. But let's call the Acela break-up that. (I'll come back to that). But it appears the pin holding the drawbar broke/fell out or something.

And finally the human factors. This gets complex. This can be training, knowledge, skill, random factors, morale, or cultural.

One of the great reads on this topic is The Challenger Launch Decision. It's a great analysis of the factors leading up to the disaster. It combines a bit of everything. Mechanical issues (O-ring burn thru), management issues ("prove to me we're NOT safe" vs. "prove we're safe"), and cultural issues, "we think we understand the problem" and more.

So.. with Amtrak... I think there's a lot of all the above going on.

As Tadman suggested, a drawbar like that simply should NOT fail. Especially after this many years and miles when wear and tear should be well understood. So is it something mechanical? Or a false faith in "we understand the wear and tear and stresses" or a training "we failed to inspect according to our given rules" or what?

CSX - We've become inured to accidents like this. We really have. They happen far too often.

And personally, in my opinion we're FAR to reliant on "Oh, PTC would solve this!"
I think it's in Charles Perrow's "Normal Accident" (might one of the other books on my shelf) he discusses how to ships, equipped with radar collided into each other. Why, because both skippers could see where each other were.. so got closer and closer, assuming the OTHER would move. i.e. the use of technology led to bad judgement.
We see that with car features, like ABS brakes. They DO help. There's no doubt. But many safety features for cars never live up to the estimated number of lives saved.. why? Because it appears that folks see the safety features as allowing them to drive a bit closer to "the edge". To be truly safer, one has to understand the value of extra safety features and NOT use it as an excuse move closer to the edge...

i.e. you need the right culture.

And yes, so I think PTC is a must... but we still need to look at the culture around Amtrak and railroading in general.

There's a saying as I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong) that every rule in the rulebook is written in blood. So they can't be tossed aside lightly. But some things may need to be changed. Part of that includes stopping saying, "we can't do that because..." or "we have to do that because..." and go back and look at the ultimate goal and if there's now better ways of doing that. (better technology, better management styles, etc)

When we start to look at countries like Japan where they run their Shinkansen trains w/o fatalities for decades, we see differences. Some of it is non-human (closed corridors and the like). Some of it is cultural, calling out every signal (which even with one person in the nose has shown to have a positive impact). Heck, in programming some of us use Rubber Duck Programming because it makes sure to focus and change how we think.

So... long winded soapbox...

I think a discussion IS important on this topic. And yes, some feelings may be hurt. Often culture and "that's how we do things" has to be reexamined at and that can bruise egos and cause hurt feelings. And it's a topic close to my heart (safety in general. I love studying disasters, how we approach them and how we change our thinking process to avoid them. It's why I wrote a bookand have a blog where I occasionally discuss it.

So I'm all for discussion. As long as we can keep polite and professionals (or the moderators can make sure we are).
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby justalurker66 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:34 am

Greg Moore wrote:Someone above I believe mentioned what's known as the swiss-cheese theory of accidents. Most accidents are NOT random events. They're a series of events lining up so all the holes in the slices of cheese line up. Change one thing and no accident.

Consider for example the recent Amtrak-CSX accident. If the train hadn't been routed onto that track... if they had been proceeding at restricted speed... If the CSX train had put out torpedoes (are those even a thing still?) 1 mile ahead... if this. that etc. Many ifs.

If Amtrak would have annulled the train due to the signal suspension the incident would have probably happened to the next train.

We still need to hear how that switch came to be lined and locked for the siding. Was it left that way by the departed CSX crew or was the switch thrown to the siding by the conductor on site (believing that it was misaligned). The general assumption is that it was left that way by the CSX crew. But when there is a conductor on site verifying the position of the switch any error by the train conductor is less relevant.

Every rule CSX has for running while signals are suspended was followed. Trains are permitted under the rules to travel at 40 MPH (passenger 59 MPH) under signal suspension because of the rules in place. There is no rule that requires restricted speed. There is no rule that requires stopping at every switch. There is no rule requiring the placing of torpedoes on the main for a train in a siding. (And a mile down the track would have been before the previous CP 3/10s of a mile away.)

Under the rules there was a conductor on site who verified the position of the switch before the Amtrak train was given permission to pass through the area with a signal suspension. That person made the mistake of reporting the switch as lined and locked for the main. That was the point of failure,

Look at the Swiss cheese from the other perspective. Running heavy trains at speed is inherently dangerous. The only way that railroading can be done safely is to line up the holes so that nothing goes wrong.

So looking at each incident (not accident) look to see what rule needs to be changed or put in place to avoid the incident. In the Amtrak vs CSX incident I believe the rules were correct. The incident was caused by an employee. Do you want to add a rule that requires restricted speed during signal suspensions? Do you want to add a rule that requires stopping before every switch? Do you want to add a rule that requires torpedoes on the main line a mile before a train in a siding? It would be easier to add a rule that suspends traffic during signal suspensions.

With PTC in place during a signal suspension the conductor on site could have just as easily reported the switch as lined and locked for the main via an iPad as he did via the dispatcher. The system (current and PTC) is only as good as the information that is fed in to it. Perhaps PTC would have reported a conflict between the sensed position of the switch and what the conductor on site reported and the conductor would have needed to check again. Perhaps under signal suspension the detection would have been considered wrong and the system would (as the dispatcher did) take the conductor on site at their word. Garbage in, garbage out.
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Re: National Railroading Safety (Amtrak & Host Railroads)

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Feb 08, 2018 8:04 am

I'm pleased that Mr. STLSteve located that article from The Times as it outlines the "self-indemnification" principle that has been in place since "almost the beginning". I "worked with that stuff" during my eleven year industry career. By 1974, most roads had agreed with Amtrak to Amended Agreements which, among other provisions, provided for this self-indemnification, or in the language of "the street", no-fault.

I'm however surprised that The Times got their hands on those provisions as they are within a bilateral Agreement that is not subject to public disclosure. But then, the larger the organization, the larger the sieve.

But those provisions can and have been run around if "Gross Negligence" has occurred - and such occurs whenever "Da Judge" says it has. I'm not certain if Crescent City rose to that level, but wouldn't be surprised if it did; possibly Bayou Canot as well. Crozet in all likelihood will not as much as it is "sick" to say when there has been loss of life, it's pretty straightforward. Frankford Jct, Chester, and wherever the Acela "separation" occurred do not involve a bilateral agreement - Amtrak "owns them".

Now Cayce is of course a "work in progress", NTSB spokesman Summwalt has made inferences to certain acts and omissions, and as Mr. Lurker immediately notes, that if established, could well lead to Gross Negligence arising from this incident.

All, told if "no fault" is off the table in any incident, you end up with deep pocketed parties fighting it out - and lawyers lining up at the feeding trough.
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