Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby DutchRailnut » Tue Feb 10, 2015 1:44 pm

Article by Dave Schanoes a retired superintendent of MN
I never get tired of explaining the simple mathematics that govern safe train operations. The more thorough our grasp of the simple mathematics of time, distance, velocity, acceleration, coefficient of friction, etc., the more sophisticated, deeper, more inclusive becomes our knowledge of what we must do to achieve safe train operations, and the more robust is our calculation for the intersection of safety and performance.
So let’s get something out of the way right from the get-go. Everything we do, the “we” being railroad operating officers, is a compromise between safety and operating performance.

We don’t operate trains at 100 mph on track that is maintained for 60 mph operation. We don’t maintain track at the safety standards set for 100 mph when our operating performance is based on a 60 mph maximum velocity.

My British colleagues would laugh and say, “All signals are red. All trains are stopped. The railway is perfectly safe.” Of course, it’s no longer functioning as a railway, no longer serving any useful function, but it’s perfectly safe.

We calculate risk; we calculate probabilities of events; we reconcile conflicting needs, based on the determining need and the likelihood of both the occurrence and the severity of an event. We design and deploy systems to manage or reduce risk while facilitating that determining need. Nothing I ever did was an exception.

Grade-crossing protection apparatus is just one of those systems. What is the determining need? To prevent a collision between train and automobile traffic? Actually not. It’s really to reduce the likelihood of such a collision. To inform vehicular traffic that the risk of a collision with a train is compounded if drivers stop on tracks or foul tracks. So we identify the crossing with signs. We provide information stenciled on the pavement—“Do Not Stop on Tracks.” At public crossings, we install warning lights supplemented often by gates that descend and act, symbolically, to “stop” a car from fouling the operating area of the railroad.

Of course, the lights and the gates can’t stop anything really, but that’s where the math has taken us, given the other determining need. rest of article at:

http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/blo ... ml?channel
Last edited by DutchRailnut on Tue Feb 10, 2015 2:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby Ridgefielder » Tue Feb 10, 2015 2:32 pm

Just need to get this off my chest.

There are 90-odd route miles, and probably at minimum 5x that in track miles, of over-running 700v DC third-rail in use on Metro-North. Probably 75% of that has been in place for over a century.

There is not a snowball's chance in Hades that anybody is going to shell out the 10-20-whatever billion dollars you'd need to rip all that out and replace it with LIRR-style over-running 3rd rail.

Even if by some chance the NTSB came out and placed the entire blame for the fatalities on this-- and why would they? The system's been used safely since before the First World War-- you'd likely be looking at a years-long legal and/or legislative fight before a single bolt got touched.

The MTA doesn't operate using 3 different electrification schemes for the sheer fun of it. They operate that way because converting would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, given the infrastructure constraints.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Tue Feb 10, 2015 3:54 pm

DutchRailnut wrote:
B9fg1f8CEAAkm40.jpg


The CDOT version needs to append "numbnuts" or "dumbarse" to the end of that and possibly make it an animated LED sign with a Hollywood-staged crossing accident to get the point across. No state in the Northeast has worse-behaved drivers around crossings than Nutmeggistan.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby LongIslandTool » Tue Feb 10, 2015 3:59 pm

How Far We've Come

Thirty-three years ago, a van carrying ten teens coming from a party went around the gates in Mineola, New York and was struck by a LIRR train. Nine of the kids were killed. A legislator's daughter who was riding in the van was the only survivor.

The media handled the event quite differently. There was no question of fault. No hysteria, no Senators demanding answers.

Americans were a different people in 1982.

For those who are interested in this sort of sociology, here's a link to the New York Time's initial story:

http://www.nytimes.com/1982/03/15/nyreg ... -gate.html
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby drumz0rz » Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:49 pm

Tommy Meehan wrote:Sumwalt referred to the lead MU car "ingesting" the third rail."Sumwalt said the third rail entered the lead MU car from underneath, after passing through the SUV's rear seat area. It entered the rail car under the first seat behind the engineer's compartment, but on the side opposite the engineer's position. Twelve 39-foot sections of third rail were found in the burned-out car. One section was found near the ceiling, having penetrated the 4333's end wall and then having penetrated into the second car. (That was the section of rail we saw being cut in the Daily News photo posted earlier.)


Wow. That's 507 ft of 3rd rail, which is roughly half the distance from impact to where the train came to rest. Anyone know the weight of the 3rd rail? Conservatively assuming it's 40lb rail (13lb/ft) that's 6,760lb of rail ingested by the lead MU or roughly 3 1/3 tons of steel.

It's amazing more people weren't seriously injured in the lead car.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby H.F.Malone » Tue Feb 10, 2015 5:07 pm

The contact ("third") rail is about 100-110# per yard, if my memory is reasonably correct. Pretty hefty cross-section to that stuff, much more so than 40-60# running rail.

The joint bars are not as substantial as running rail joint bars.

The notion that NYC under-running contact rail is somehow "inferior" or to blame for the death toll is ludicrous political grand-standing. Convert the MNCR lines to LIRR-style contact rail, at enormous cost, and then wait for the next big snowstorm, to hear the howls of anguish over how poorly the trains perform in heavy snow.

Enforce the EXISTING laws regarding grade crossings (and raise some revenue while you're at it). Mandate cameras as another poster suggested, with heavy fines/penalties.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby NH2060 » Tue Feb 10, 2015 5:10 pm

^I think one thing that one needs to take with a grain of salt in comparing news coverage of the Mineola crash in 1982 to Valhalla in 2015 is the fact that the over-saturation of news -that is, the amount of media outlets and how much they broadcast/post/etc.- was practically nothing in the early 1980s compared to today.

I remember even back in the late 1990s/early 2000s growing up in CT when every weeknight on Channel 7 it was Roz Abrams and Robb Hanrahan @ 5, Diana Williams and the late great Bill Beutel @ 6 and then Peter Jennings @ 6:30. Now they've got Eyewitness News @ 4, 5, and 6.. How much actual news even in the greater NYC area can just one station cover in one evening?

Even with CNN around in 1982 it was more or less the lone wolf in the game so to speak. Now you've got MSNBC, FOX News, NY1, News 12, you name it providing 24 hours of non-stop news all day, all night. Oh and let's no forget that the internet was unheard of back in 1982. Now it's everywhere whether you like it or not. Just a Google News search on "third rail" will bring up a list of news stories pertaining to this recent accident.

Now outlets such as the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. are IMO still reputable enough sources to go to. If there's any kind of "angle" or "twist" it's escaped me. It's when elected officials like Sen. Blumenthal cry foul after a couple of MINOR I repeat MINOR derailments in GCT -after which it makes it into the press- that the risk of the facts, worry, etc. getting twisted out of proportion runs high. Whenever he starts getting into it about the "culture of safety" problems on Metro-North I feel as frustrated as the next guy and just wish he never chimed in in the first place.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As for replacing the entire 3rd rail system. Look, who one of us saw this coming? I doubt ANYONE thought this could happen. But now that it has and the loss of human life it caused wasn't even what it COULD have done.. it could be hard to justify keeping the underrunning system anymore in the long run unless there is a way of "anchoring" it in some way at the ends to prevent a future mishap. It could very well be that in prior accidents on the Upper Harlem the trains involved were more or less lucky every time. There's a reason why in prior LIRR crashes -even those where the front of the train caught fire- nothing like this had happened. It doesn't replace proper education of the public on grade crossing safety, nothing can. But again if the design of the third rail was a major factor in what happened after the car was struck one cannot ignore that fact.

What should be emphasized no matter what is that this isn't the fault of Metro-North or even the New York Central. It truly sounds like one of those cases where there were "unforeseen consequences".

Here's a link to WABC in which an electrician who has worked on the third rail system who says that the design likely contributed to the crash:
http://7online.com/news/exclusive-new-d ... sh/506244/
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby LongIslandTool » Tue Feb 10, 2015 5:57 pm

There's nothing new under the sun. There have been countless accidents, mostly in the days of wooden coaches, where running rails have pierced passenger car bodies. I think every railroad supervisor with an eye for history has loathed the possibility of an accident like this one.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby justalurker66 » Tue Feb 10, 2015 7:03 pm

NH2060 wrote:As for replacing the entire 3rd rail system. Look, who one of us saw this coming? I doubt ANYONE thought this could happen. But now that it has and the loss of human life it caused wasn't even what it COULD have done.. it could be hard to justify keeping the underrunning system anymore in the long run unless there is a way of "anchoring" it in some way at the ends to prevent a future mishap.


The answer is quite simple and was offered last week ... attempt to prevent a struck vehicle from under running the rail the way the SUV collected the third rail. Have you seen the Jersey Barriers that ramp down at the end so a vehicle hitting the end of the barrier is lifted up instead of hitting a solid concrete wall? Bury one of those on the non-track side of the third rail so a struck vehicle being pushed down the ROW has a better chance of being pushed up and over the third rail than pushed under the third rail.

One does not need to remove under running third rail to make the existing use safer.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby Tommy Meehan » Tue Feb 10, 2015 7:16 pm

I think it should be pointed out that it isn't clear (and is still unknown) what role the third rail played in this accident. It is not known yet whether the third rail sparked the fire and/or caused injuries when it penetrated the lead MU car. From the Wall Street Journal:
It wasn’t clear to railroad experts whether the third rail sparked a fire fueled by the SUV’s gasoline, or was potentially still live by the time it penetrated the railcar. Railroad experts said the collision’s friction would have been enough to spark the blaze. Metal scraping rocks in the track bed also could create sparks. News link


I will be surprised if it turns out the power hadn't shut off within a second or two of the initial short circuit. There have been accidents and collisions in the past where equipment came in contact with the third rail and I don't recall it causing any damage. The circuit breakers react too quickly. The NTSB will be able to determine the timing so I guess we have to wait and see.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby RussNelson » Tue Feb 10, 2015 8:13 pm

Remember when this Metro Trains Melbourne video went viral? http://dumbwaystodie.com/ Maybe we need to get more people to watch it again. As they say on the website:
Most people are smart enough to realise that trains are pretty big, fast and can potentially be pretty dangerous. But there are a few silly people who still don't get it. There are a lot of dumb ways to die, like eating superglue, sticking forks in toasters and selling both your kidneys. But the dumbest way to die by far is getting hit by a train. It's such an easy thing to avoid. So here are a few tips to remember the next time you're near a train: ....
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby Tommy Meehan » Tue Feb 10, 2015 8:37 pm

It should probably be remembered that the under-running third rail system was developed (and patented) by New York Central chief engineer William Wilgus and electrical developer Frank Sprague (he also perfected regenerative braking and MU traction control). They perfected the third rail design in 1905 just as New York Central was about to electrify the suburban lines running out of Grand Central. The main advantages cited were greater reliability in winter weather and better protection for railroad workers. Here's a link to a story about Wilgus and Sprague and some of their achievements, written by Joseph Cunningham and Sprague's grandson John Sprague, in the Jan.-Feb. 2013 issue of the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) Power & Energy Magazine.

It should also be recalled that Central did not want grade crossings in third rail territory. The road insisted all crossings be eliminated before extending third rail service to Harmon and North White Plains. But this wasn't because of concerns about grade crossing collisions (there were few automobiles on the road in 1910) but because of the danger to pedestrians and trespassers.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby NaugyRR » Wed Feb 11, 2015 12:53 pm

F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:
DutchRailnut wrote:
B9fg1f8CEAAkm40.jpg


The CDOT version needs to append "numbnuts" or "dumbarse" to the end of that and possibly make it an animated LED sign with a Hollywood-staged crossing accident to get the point across. No state in the Northeast has worse-behaved drivers around crossings than Nutmeggistan.


That's a little uncalled for, don't you think?

Looking in the FRA Safety Analysis Query, Connecticut only had 6 highway related accidents last year, 2 in 2013 and 2 again in 2012. By comparison Mass had 9 highway incidents last year, 16 in 2013, and 8 in 2012; New York rang in with 22 in 2014, 35 in 2013, and 24 in 2012. Rhode Island had absolutely no incidents for the years researched.

Granted CT is tiny compared to it's neighbors to the north and west, we still have some busy railroading going on.

Every state has it's batch of bad drivers. Everyone makes mistakes. There's no need to go name-calling, especially when promoting safety.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby dt_rt40 » Wed Feb 11, 2015 1:56 pm

My only post to this thread was one that mysteriously disappeared on Saturday.
I pointed out that, whomever is tasked with enforcing the law about not being stopped on crossings with the gates down - it's clearly not being enforced. Therefore people feel entitled TO be on crossing with the gates down. I mean, this is basic, Occam's razor stuff people. There's no need to over-think it. Laws sufficiently unenforced no longer seem like laws to Joe and Jane Public. I'm sure this driver was a wonderful lady...wonderful people can and do make stupid and illegal decisions, especially if they don't realize they are stupid and illegal. Presumably, being a wonderful person, she would not have bought a gun and shot the five passenger victims in cold blood.
I LOVE the Railway Age article ideal for tire shredders that would pop up a couple seconds after the gates are down. Have a big, bright, LED sign warning of their presence, too. HD CCTV cameras to document that, yes, you Mr. Westchester County lawyer, really did try to go around when the gates were down. Except, it's actually a good idea, so we can safely assume the public adminstrators responsible for crossings will never implement it.
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Re: Major grade-crossing accident in Valhalla 2/3/15

Postby Tommy Meehan » Wed Feb 11, 2015 2:48 pm

dt_rt40 wrote: Therefore people feel entitled TO be on crossing with the gates down. I mean, this is basic, Occam's razor stuff people. There's no need to over-think it.


I have seen similar comments here; do you realize the driver behind the accident SUV described the traffic as "inching along" and said the SUV was already within the crossing area when the gates activated? I think the other poster had it right. People get distracted, they lack situational awareness and do what even the person involved would probably say later was stupid.
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