Discussion related to commuter rail and transit operators in California past and present including Los Angeles Metrolink and Metro Subway and Light Rail, San Diego Coaster, Sprinter and MTS Trolley, Altamont Commuter Express (Stockton), Caltrain and MUNI (San Francisco), Sacramento RTD Light Rail, and others...

Moderator: lensovet

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  by AlanB
 
Well just to add to the confusion and questions:
The conductor aboard the commuter train that collided with a freight train in September told investigators the warning light along the track was green before the crash that killed 25 people, his attorney said Thursday (Dec. 4).
The full story from the UTU's website can be found here.
  by Jtgshu
 
Im surprised that this hasn't caused more discussion here.....

The Trainorders site has an, for lack of a better word, interesting, discussion going on, with the various theories going back and forth.

My two cents on it.....

Yes, its possible for the signals to malfunction, 1 time in a million, 1 time in a bilion, 1 time in a Hundred Billion - the chance is still there.

The actions of the crew both the engineer and conductor jive, in my mind, to what would happen if the signal was displaying (or looked to be displaying) a clear.

It happens all the time, you pass other signals, namely an approach, and if you can see the home signal or not, the dispatcher forgot about you, and DING - the signal pops up.

Also, depending on the rule books, some signals do NOT have to be called. In NORAC, the signals that must be called are Stop and Proceed, Restricting, Approach, Medium Approach, Slow Approach (rule 94B - Calling signals on Push Pull trains) Now, railroads can make their own rules that might state that ALL signals must be called. I dunno what is the case out there in Metrolink land.

However, on my RR, if I had an Advance Appraoch, i would NOT have to call it out to my Cond. If i had an Approach, I would. If for instance, If I had an Approach, I called it out, the cond did or didn't respond, but then my next signal popped up to a Clear (at the interlocking) I would have to call the signal to my cond to tell him that it popped up, and we aren't running under the Approach any more. If the signal at Topanga looked to be at a Clear, even after passing the approach, he should have called it out that it upgraded, but he could have forgotten to do so. Yes, its breaking a rule, but with the cond being on the platform, and supposedly seeing the same green signal, the eng not calling it out to the cond wouldn't be the worst thing in the world not to do. (although in this case, It would have answered these questions......)

Now, to simply dismiss the whole incident on text messaging is unfair, IMO and a knee jerk reaction. Maybe because im an engineer like Mr. Sanchez, but I can see a different side of things. Like someone mentioned on TO, the signal, especially a stop signal, is the "elephant in the room" to an engineer - you just CAN'T ignore it - its the instinct of EVERY engineer. You live and die by signals. They are that important. A text message would NOT distract any competitent engineer from a signal that he was approaching. Especially one that was as experienced as Mr. Sanchez was. Unless you are a railroader its hard to explain and understand, but you know the railroad better than the streets you drive. You live, see, breathe, feel and smell the railroad. An engineer KNOWS where he is at, especially a seasoned one. Its not like this was Mr. Sanchezs first run over this territory, where he could have gotten "lost" and not known that was a home signal or interlocking up ahead. Stop Signals are run all the time (unfortunately) but rarely is it like in this sitatuion where the engineer never touched the brakes. Most guys will dump the train or whatever, and slide past it, or have a brain fart, look up and see it, then jam on the brakes, but too late. But very, very, VERY rarely do you have guys who don't know they did something, and don't attempt to stop at all. That should say something - "maybe he didn't know or couldn't tell it was red (or was it red at all)..........."

With regard to the buffs on the platform who supposedly saw the signal, think about it. They are like "expert" witnesses - why? Because they were there for a reason, supposedly, to see the delayed UP train that was involved, which they knew about. They saw a clear and figured "Huh - I guess they are running the Metrolink first" (from a Trainorders post that someone claims to have spoken with or know the guys who were there). They know what the signals mean, and they knew what a green signal meant, and they knew that there was a freight somewhere. This isn't like an 80 year old driving down the road on teh way to the eye doctor claiming they saw a green signal at CP Topanga.

As for finding out what exactly happened? I don't think we will ever really know. Maybe its my cynical side, but how could Metrolink or the FRA or NTSB say that it was a signal failure that caused this wreck? Anyone who rides the rails on a daily basis would be in a panic! It would be a disaster. "Blame it on the engineer" - its the easy and convenient answer. One that Metrolink was VERY quick to come out with, with that distraught spokeswoman. That raised red flags the second I saw her talking.

I have said it before, and Ill say it again - things that "shouldn't" or "can't" happen, happen all the time. Ive seen it with my own eyes out on the RR. "That can't happen!" Guess what it did. I don't care about the brand of style of the signal, or the relay cases, and how things could and should and "do" work. They are all designed and made by humans, which means, that there could be a fault in it.

The above is just my opinions, I dunno any inside info or anything, but from a railroader's point of view, the whole thing is shady, and no matter what the NTSB and FRA and Metrolink come out with as their explaination, in the back of my mind, Ill know what COULD (and maybe did) happen, and when I can and I have control, Ill "operate accordingly" and keep an extra watchful eye out while in my travels. Because certain things COULD happen.
  by Tadman
 
JT, I'm not trying to contradict anything you say - it's great to have a pro's perspective on this unfortunate incident. However, it's worth mentioning that expert witnesses and eyewitnesses are a huge pain and often wrong. In the case of expert witnesses, the court usually must review them and find them to be peer reviewed experts in the field. Even then, both sides will have plenty of expert witnesses that are willing to testify in support of their side. Further, eyewitnesses are horribly unreliable. There are many restrictions on the testimony available from eyewitnesses, but they are still quite unreliable. This doesn't stem from a perversion of morals or foul play, just the way the human mind works.

Again I'm not trying to contradict anything you say, your posts here and at the NJT forum are very informative - I'm just trying to put in context how the testimony of the expert and eyewitnesses will be received.
  by Jtgshu
 
Thanks for the kind word Tadman, and you are absolutely correct.

Of course, anyone who is an "eyewitness" is suspect, unless they have a camera of some sorts. Memories can play tricks on you.

However, in this context, of what COULD have happened, (we aren't professional investigators by any means, but we at least can have a discussion on things) the eyewitnesses reports can't be dismissed. And to have the Conductor (a trained professional) saying the same thing, simply can't be ignored or dismissed.

Sure, he could be saying it to cover his own tail, because he might have violated rules and could get in trouble if he admitted that he was wrong in the way the train left the station (i.e. if the stop signal was there, should the doors have even been closed, was the signal called, etc) but I think at this point, he is well beyond getting in "trouble for a rules violation". However, what he did (and the engineer did) when the train left the station WOULD be what should have been done if the signal was a proceed signal.

Im gonna throw something out there for the "conspiracy theorists" that I have not see anyone mention or even consider (but in turn still deals with the signal system)

Could the UP train have run a stop signal at the last interlocking?

Hmmmmmmmmmm. Im not sure of the kind of Dispatching/CTC system that is used out there, but Ive seen automatics that have clears in both directions (no direction of traffic set). And just because a switch wasn't broken, that doesn't mean that the signal wasn't ran. The dispatcher could have not noticed, or the overrun alarm didn't go off, or was ignored (that was a problem that was found when the two Septa trains had a head-on 2 or so years ago).

Doesn't anyone find it wierd that the dispatcher would hold a presumably on time passenger train for a several hour late freight? Also, aren't the dispatchers Metrolink dispatchers for that territory? On my RR at least, unless the freight crew was very short on time and could blow up, that dispatcher would hear it if he delayed a pax train for a late freight train........

The run switch at CP Topanga would still have to be explained, but the dispatcher could have threw it at the last second when realized what was gonna happen, but it was too late for the Metrolink train. It could have been a clear, he throttled out, and then the signal was dropped, but he was distracted by the text message, and wasn't looking at the signal (because especially with a signal track if you have the signal you ASSUME that the next block is clear)

What is the time out on the interlocking if any? (not all have real long timers)

My point is that the engineer of the Metrolink train seems to be (to use a RR term) "hung out to dry". The text messaging "answer" for the wreck was TOO quick and too convenient. There are PLENTY of other situations and scenarios that are QUITE possible. Like I have said many times before, things that "CAN'T" happen, happen all the time.

Im not saying the Metrolink engineer isn't at fault, and text messaging/distraction didn't play a part. But its not the only thing that was a factor that day, IMO of course.
  by DutchRailnut
 
JT the assumptions made, just do not jive with hard evidence the NTSB has presented, like radio recorder and CP point black boxes.
The CP point recorders and replay at Dispatchers desk were in full sync, and showed all electrical activity on the system including current to each light bulb.
Sure statements are made, like the conductor who after 2 months finaly figured he saw a green signal ??????? but after all this time how accurate.
Same with railfans at platform, after viewing two more weeks of choo choo's they alll of sudden remember the signal was green ??? how accurate.
As locomotive engineer I know my last 2 or 3 signals, but if you ask me what signal I had after 3 or 4 days Im lost, I simply see to many every day.
  by 3rdrail
 
Jtgshu wrote:As for finding out what exactly happened? I don't think we will ever really know. Maybe its my cynical side, but how could Metrolink or the FRA or NTSB say that it was a signal failure that caused this wreck? Anyone who rides the rails on a daily basis would be in a panic! It would be a disaster. "Blame it on the engineer" - its the easy and convenient answer. One that Metrolink was VERY quick to come out with, with that distraught spokeswoman. That raised red flags the second I saw her talking.
Hi Jtgshu !
You had me reading this post with interest until I came to this paragraph. We all have opinions, and mine is telling me that the conditions are not right for there to be the type of massive coverup to take place that you are insinuating. Also, I find this kind of agitation highly insulting to the workers, namely from NTSB, Los Angeles Police, Fire Department, and Metrolink. For what it's worth, I do believe that massive "para-realities" take place occasionally, historically. I highly suspect one in particular in which the NTSB were not allowed access for all intended purposes. I know the Los Angeles Police to be a highly professional law enforcement organization, and from what I have seen, the LAFD as well. My feeling as regards to Metrolink's spokeswoman's comment as regards to "cause", I believe, was a case whereby she had received previous direction to release that statement which was and is generally believed to be true. Although I believe that it might not have been the most professional thing to do by releasing that statement when she did, I believe that she did it out of forthrightness, albeit with probably a little inexperience and too much emotion thrown in. In order for the type of "conspiracy" to take place such as you suggest, there must not be multiple investigating agencies (particularly highly rated agencies) which are not connected, having access to the truth. There must be one that circles the wagons. With the noted agencies involved with this incident, the chances of a cover-up are extremely small.

Hi Tadman !
You hit the nail right on the head !
  by Jtgshu
 
Wait a sec here, Just to clarify, im not saying there is going to be agents Mulder and Scully around to investigate (from the X Files TV show in case you didn't know haha) or anything like that, but just rather possibly carefully worded reports and answers, because no matter what any one might say in a "final" report, there are possibilites that COULD have happened, and MIGHT have played a part, but that no one wants to mention.

Dutch, okay fine, I accept the info on the downloads of the software and dispatching center, fine - I was just throwing somehting out there, that COULD have happened, if the stars were aligned.

Remember, a major incidnet like this is NEVER the result of just one screw up (the engineer text messaging). Its a series of many things, maybe even some things seemingly unrelated, going wrong, and things falling into place exactly as they would have to for the end result to happen. One minor change, and the whole thing wouldn't have happened.

I guess that is the point I have been trying to get across, but just now figured out how to get it out. The single action of the engineer text messaging didn't cause the incident. And it drives me nuts that "knowledgable" railfans and "professionals" are insisting on this.

But getting back to this..........
Sure statements are made, like the conductor who after 2 months finaly figured he saw a green signal ??????? but after all this time how accurate.
Same with railfans at platform, after viewing two more weeks of choo choo's they alll of sudden remember the signal was green ??? how accurate.
As locomotive engineer I know my last 2 or 3 signals, but if you ask me what signal I had after 3 or 4 days Im lost, I simply see to many every day.
I too pass hundreds of signals in a day, and I don't remember each one after a certain period of time has lapsed, but you can bet your bottom dollar, if I was a buff standing on a platform, or a conductor or engineer, and my train was then involved in a major wreck or incident, i would remember EXACTLY the moments preceding up to it, including the last signal. Just like I can play back the last fatality I had in my head on demand from the last interlocking before the scene to the moments following it. I KNOW what happened then, just as I would KNOW what my last signal was and my actions leading up to a major incident like that. Because that train turned into a not so ordinary train on a not so ordinary day and that short term memory was burned into my long term memory probably til the day I die.

But maybe thats just me.......
  by 3rdrail
 
Jtgshu wrote:Remember, a major incidnet like this is NEVER the result of just one screw up (the engineer text messaging). Its a series of many things, maybe even some things seemingly unrelated, going wrong, and things falling into place exactly as they would have to for the end result to happen. One minor change, and the whole thing wouldn't have happened.

I guess that is the point I have been trying to get across, but just now figured out how to get it out. The single action of the engineer text messaging didn't cause the incident. And it drives me nuts that "knowledgable" railfans and "professionals" are insisting on this.
That "series of things" quote regarding incidents, although often technically true, is very much over-used and often doesn't hold water. It's by the same author that came up with "closure". The "series of things" quote often is used to attempt to mitigate personal responsibility when things go wrong. "Yes, your honor, my client may have registered a .32 on the breathylizer, but if the road hadn't been slippery and the other driver had had more sleep and if my client had had a full meal instead of working hard for his family..." (Believe it or not, that may not be an exaggeration.) Well buddy, guess what ? The accident happened because your client was drunk. Likewise, maybe Sanchez caused the wreck due to the fact that corresponding with young boys was more important than safeguarding the lives of his passengers.
  by Jtgshu
 
I would hate to be the one to get this thread locked - I realize that I have been speculating on things, and we should be sticking to facts when discussing things.

I will just say that I think there was more to the incident that just the text messaging of the engineer. Thats my opinion, and while we don't know everything now, I think something else was also a major factor. Whatever it may be.

Conspiracy theory? No, not quite, but there might be other things in the final report that aren't gonna get the attention they deserve. Pay attention to the footnotes and small print.

Sometimes what ISN'T said is more imporatant than what IS said.....
  by lstone19
 
Reading this as well as other stories about it, one thing I've not seen mentioned is what I consider to be the "broken" rules of signal calling that apparently exist. Broken because for the conductor back on the train with no view of the signals, there is no difference in what occurs when the signal is clear (conductor hears nothing from the engineer on the radio) and when the signal is not clear but the engineer is incapacitated (conductor hears nothing from the engineer on the radio).

Unfortunately, the people who came up with these signal-calling rules failed to think through the various failure modes and it has resulted in a system that rather than failing safe fails dangerously. I can only guess that someone decided calling clear signals caused too much radio traffic but the reality is a conductor out of sight of the engineer and the signals has no other way to know the engineer is still fully there unless he regularly lets the conductor know such as by calling clear signals.
  by Tommy Meehan
 
Trade journal Railway Age reported last week:

The visibility of a red signal may be a factor in the Sept. 12 train collision in Chatsworth, Calif., involving a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific freight train. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have discovered that the red signal in question may not have been as clearly visible as the green and yellow displays.

"We did some signal inspections. Can't hardly see the red," one investigator reportedly told another before a meeting Sept. 15, three days after the crash.

Still unclear is how much of a factor such visibility contributed to the crash, which killed 25 and injured 135, and spurred congressional action to mandate Positive Train Control on U.S. routes sharing freight and passenger traffic by 2015. NTSB officials note that train collisions normally have more than one cause, and cell phone records indicate that the Metrolink engineer was using his cell phone just before the collision.


Railway Age is primarily read by management so the report seems pretty credible.
  by DutchRailnut
 
If that was a credible cause there should be a big pile of trains there as many a train gets a red signal there.
Also railroads have rules which state : in absence of a signal the most restrictive signal will govern, in other words if signal is dark or in non-compliance the signal is stop.
It Does not mean: proceed while texting , not exceeding track speed
  by lensovet
 
I've gone ahead and merged the two topics...let's keep speculation to a minimum. Has there been any additional info released by the NTSB?
  by Tommy Meehan
 
TRAINS news wire wrote:LOS ANGELES - Conductor Robert Heldenbrand, the lone surviving crew member of the Sept. 12 Metrolink wreck that killed 25 people, has told investigators the signal he passed prior to the crash was green, the Los Angeles Times has reported. The investigation to this point has centered on the engineer's conduct, and whether he caused the crash by passing a signal displaying red, but if the signal improperly displayed a green aspect, the crew could be absolved. Trackside signals are programmed to detect the presence of a train or other equipment within a block and turn red, telling approaching movements to stop prior to entering. If the signal truly displayed a green aspect when in fact a Union Pacific freight occupied the block, it would mean a signal failure. Such failures do occasionally occur, and are known as false clear indications.

Heldebrand's account backs up that of three witnesses on the platform of the Chatsworth depot, who also say the light was green at the time of the crash. Still, the National Transportation Safety Board is standing by its account of the crash, saying the train's engineer, Robert Sanchez, passed a red signal before slamming head-on into the UP freight. It has, however, questioned how brightly lit the signal was.

Investigators had earlier asked why Sanchez hadn't called out the signal's indication on the radio, which Hildebrand would have been required to repeat back if the signal wasn't green. But a green signal would have meant the two would not be required to call the signal.
  by Tommy Meehan
 
I would also like to know the whether the conductor recalls any conversation with the engineer regarding the UP freight. Whether he can recall being aware of the freight's whereabouts. Also whether he would agree, as several passengers said, that the two trains usually passed in that area, one normally taking siding for the other.
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