• The stopping guidelines have officially been dumbed down

  • Discussion related to DC area passenger rail services from Northern Virginia to Baltimore, MD. Includes Light Rail and Baltimore Subway.
Discussion related to DC area passenger rail services from Northern Virginia to Baltimore, MD. Includes Light Rail and Baltimore Subway.

Moderators: mtuandrew, therock, Robert Paniagua

  by justalurker66
 
Perhaps the most recent accident is not the best example of why humans are needed ... but even if the collision was not avoided the impact speed was reduced. God only knows what the death toll would have been at full speed ... the speed that the impact would have occurred at without human intervention.

If you want to take humans out of the cabs then get the system to run flawless without them. That is the challenge. If you don't want human operators make the trains work with no errors. Zero errors. Period. Not "no errors that a live operator could have avoided" but no errors.

Perhaps I am biased because my favorite rail lines run real trains and not WMATA style toys. Plenty of humans operating those trains. And a lot less errors caused by the railroad itself. Their accidents are more likely the fault of outsiders than employees and management, like WMATA.
  by krtaylor
 
justalurker66 wrote:If you want to take humans out of the cabs then get the system to run flawless without them. That is the challenge. If you don't want human operators make the trains work with no errors. Zero errors. Period. Not "no errors that a live operator could have avoided" but no errors.
This attitude is precisely the reason that WMATA and other US transit systems are so antiquated. The comparison is invalid and illogical.

First off, automatic systems on a high-intensity setup like a metro have a built-in advantage over human operators: they are cheaper to operate. More expensive to install, true, but cheaper going forward. The financial payoff is a simple calculation.

Then, there's the risk factor. It is not necessary for automatic systems to be perfect - they only need to be at least as good as human-operated ones. If an automatic system is just as good (and no more failure prone) than a human-operated one, it should be used - because the money thus saved can be invested in other safety measures, and the net result will be an increase in safety.

Look at it this way: Suppose WMATA had operated a driverless system all these years, as it was originally designed to be, and saved all the money otherwise spent on driver salaries. There would have been more than enough savings for WMATA to be able to retire and replace the old 10000-series railcars as the FRA advised them to do, which would have been the single most safety-improving thing they could have done.
  by justalurker66
 
krtaylor wrote:Look at it this way: Suppose WMATA had operated a driverless system all these years, as it was originally designed to be, and saved all the money otherwise spent on driver salaries. There would have been more than enough savings for WMATA to be able to retire and replace the old 1000-series railcars as the FRA advised them to do, which would have been the single most safety-improving thing they could have done.
Hypotheticals are fun. I expect that had WMATA not had drivers to pay they would have found something else to spend the money on ... other than replacement rail cars. Bonuses for management. Off site "training seminars" in Vegas. There are always ways to waste money. Spending it on a "on board operator" isn't a waste.
  by krtaylor
 
justalurker66 wrote:I expect that had WMATA not had drivers to pay they would have found something else to spend the money on ... other than replacement rail cars.
Can't argue with you there :-D but that's an argument against big government, unaccountable public-sector unions, and unfireable civil service and political appointees, not against the unavoidable truth that by spending money on one thing, you aren't spending it on something else. Stupid spending is stupid spending, and doing something the wrong way is still doing something the wrong way even if there's an even wrong-er way.

Again, why aren't we looking at how other countries do it? It's easy to say "They spend more money" - which they do. They also waste less, so people are willing to GIVE them more money. Would YOU want WMATA to get even more of your tax dollars? As you say, "There are always ways to waste money" - and nothing beats a government bureaucracy in finding those ways.
  by neroden
 
krtaylor wrote:As you say, "There are always ways to waste money" - and nothing beats a government bureaucracy in finding those ways.
Actually, the historical evidence shows that a major corporate bureaucracy is significantly better at finding ways to waste money than a government one. Bureaucracy is a problem in and of itself; the fewer layers between the people "on the ground" and the top decision makers, the better. The exceptional unaccountability of corporate CEOs and boards, who can generally write their own salaries and cannot be fired even if they trash their companies, can make it a lot worse there. Government bureaucracies have *some* oversight, by comparison. Consider the behavior of Metrolink vs. Veolia in the Chatsworth crash.
  by krtaylor
 
Bureaucracy by its nature is indeed wasteful, whether it's a big corporate bureaucracy or a government one. That's why the best-run companies nowadays try to have as flat a structure as possible, vs the inefficient corporate dinosaurs like GM and the old-school phone companies.

But there's a natural limit on the wastefulness of a corporate bureaucracy: eventually you run out of money and die, unless you can con the government into bailing you out like GM. Then other, smaller, more nimbler competitors will take over and do a better job. Government can't go bankrupt, except in the drastic sense of a national collapse or outside conquest, neither of which any of us would ever want - so it can just keep taking and wasting, taking and wasting.

Look at the history of railroading - how many railroads were there in the first hundred years which failed and were bought up by more successful competitors, and how incredibly quickly did railroading improve in safety, comfort, efficiency, and scope? Then compare that with the last thirty years of government-run Amtrak, in which we've basically gone backwards at vast expense. In what way is Amtrak better than the Pennsy of the 1930s? I don't think it's even safer on a per-passenger-mile basis. Same for transit systems - compare the reach and efficiency of private LA Pacific Electric and DC streetcar lines with Metro of today in both cities.
  by JackRussell
 
krtaylor wrote:Look at the history of railroading - how many railroads were there in the first hundred years which failed and were bought up by more successful competitors, and how incredibly quickly did railroading improve in safety, comfort, efficiency, and scope? Then compare that with the last thirty years of government-run Amtrak, in which we've basically gone backwards at vast expense. In what way is Amtrak better than the Pennsy of the 1930s? I don't think it's even safer on a per-passenger-mile basis. Same for transit systems - compare the reach and efficiency of private LA Pacific Electric and DC streetcar lines with Metro of today in both cities.
That's not fair though. If there were no Amtrak, there would probably be no passenger rail service in the U.S. as the major railroads didn't want to be bothered any more. If the government were to try and sell Amtrak, who would bid on it, and how much do you think they would get (excluding bidders who just wanted to buy rolling stock for cheap that they could ship it overseas).

And for quite a few decades lots of people didn't want to be bothered either - they either wanted to fly or drive as fuel was cheap and interstate highways made it easy. But higher fuel prices, airport aggravations, road congestion and deteriorating road conditions are gradually causing the pendulum to swing back again.
  by krtaylor
 
Wouldn't you say that government over-regulation and union featherbedding had a fair bit to do with the decline of railroads? Passenger railroading was always less profitable and more trouble than freight; with the entire industry struggling, naturally it would be the first to go.

The union problems seem to have been mostly solved, though as the many complaints on this board against FRA regs testify, we clearly still have a problem with over-regulation. That might affect the sale price of Amtrak. But if it were sold without requirements to continue unprofitable services, or with appropriate subsidies for those services to make them profitable, why wouldn't we expect it to have value? How could the NEC not have value? It's a unique and irreplaceable asset serving untold millions of people - true, it's suffered from gross underinvestment for a long, long time, but private enterprise is traditionally quite good at solving such problems if government will get out of the way.

For sure, you wouldn't see "move-the-goalposts" kind of responses from a private operator such as with WMATA which started this thread in the first place. If people get frustrated with a public utility, the public utility can simply ask for and usually get more taxpayer dollars; if people get frustrated with a private company's service, that company had better shape up if it wishes to survive.