Misaligned Track Switches That Cause Wrecks

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Misaligned Track Switches That Cause Wrecks
Posted by overall on Friday, February 09, 2018 11:42 AM

 

I have worked in the electric utility industry since 1979. On a typical utility power grid, there will be line switches that are normally closed or open. The status of these switches can be changed to shift consumers from one source to another. This is usually done to get consumers back on in case of some sort of trouble, like a storm or a vehicle striking a pole. A large number of these switches are hand thrown out in the field by a power company employee. Electric utilities have power dispatchers, whose job it is to control the switchgear on the power system. If someone wants to change the status of a switch, he must first call the dispatcher and get the dispatcher’s permission first, before doing it. These conversations a recorded and saved, in case there is some question about it later on. There is an operations log kept that shows these switch operations and when and why they were done. If a switch is left in an abnormal state, this situation is flagged and the dispatcher must find out why. He has the authority to order the switch status changed back, if need be. 

Here is my question; Why can’t the railroads do something similar with track switches? If a brakeman on a train needs to line a switch abnormally, he should call the dispatcher and get permission first, before doing it. If the switch is left lined for a siding, when it should be lined for the main, that situation would be flagged on a mimic board and the dispatcher would know to issue a switching order to get that switch back to normal.  

If this is a bad idea or won’t work, tell me why.

 

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, February 09, 2018 12:07 PM

overall
Here is my question; Why can’t the railroads do something similar with track switches? If a brakeman on a train needs to line a switch abnormally, he should call the dispatcher and get permission first, before doing it. If the switch is left lined for a siding, when it should be lined for the main, that situation would be flagged on a mimic board and the dispatcher would know to issue a switching order to get that switch back to normal.  

If this is a bad idea or won’t work, tell me why.

It is done every day. There are procedures in effect to require it.  However, in the Cacye case, with the signal system suspended there was no indication to the Dispatcher that the job that backed the auto racks off in the siding had failed to close the siding switch, despite the crew having reported that they had closed the switch.

To use your term - the mimic board was out of service account of the Signal System Suspension.

         

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 09, 2018 12:35 PM

BaltACD

 

 
overall
Here is my question; Why can’t the railroads do something similar with track switches? If a brakeman on a train needs to line a switch abnormally, he should call the dispatcher and get permission first, before doing it. If the switch is left lined for a siding, when it should be lined for the main, that situation would be flagged on a mimic board and the dispatcher would know to issue a switching order to get that switch back to normal.  

If this is a bad idea or won’t work, tell me why.

 

It is done every day. There are procedures in effect to require it.  However, in the Cacye case, with the signal system suspended there was no indication to the Dispatcher that the job that backed the auto racks off in the siding had failed to close the siding switch, despite the crew having reported that they had closed the switch.

To use your term - the mimic board was out of service account of the Signal System Suspension.

 

So does that mean that when the signal system was suspended, there was a resulting reduction of safety by the loss of automatic switch postion varification?

If so, why wasn't some other temporary procedure or mechanism added to compensate for the temporary loss of switch position varification?  For instance, why not impose restricted speed on trains approaching switches?

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Posted by tree68 on Friday, February 09, 2018 12:56 PM

Euclid
If so, why wasn't some other temporary procedure or mechanism added to compensate for the temporary loss of switch position varification?  For instance, why not impose restricted speed on trains approaching switches?

Those protections were in place. Speed on the line was reduced to 59 MPH, and I have little doubt that track occupancy was granted by EC1 (track warrant).  

Trains in dark territory routinely run without any signals at all.  

The suspension had been in effect for what, a full day already.  There were no problems up until that point.

A failure in procedure occured.  

 

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, February 09, 2018 1:02 PM

Euclid
So does that mean that when the signal system was suspended, there was a resulting reduction of safety by the loss of automatic switch postion varification?

Yes.  The switch had a circuit controller and electric lock.  If the switch wasn't hard over against the stock rail in the normal position, the track circuit would knock down and the adjacent block signal would show "stop".

Euclid
If so, why wasn't some other temporary procedure or mechanism added to compensate for the temporary loss of switch position varification? 

With the signal system out, the territory reverted to "dark territory" rules.  59 mph max instead of 79 mph.  So, same level of safety as running in dark territory elsewhere.  Part of this is that the switch position to be recorded on form - by Federal Rule.

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2005/11/25/05-23303/fra-emergency-order-no-24-notice-no-2-emergency-order-no-24-hand-operated-main-track-switches

Was this done in this case?  I don't think anybody has said it has or hasn't been done.  Only statement I heard was that the freight released their movement authority and implicit in this was that switch was normal and locked.

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, February 09, 2018 1:11 PM

Euclid
If so, why wasn't some other temporary procedure or mechanism added to compensate for the temporary loss of switch position varification?  For instance, why not impose restricted speed on trains approaching switches?

Why not shut the railroad down for the duration?

Anything is subject to man failure.  PTC when implemented will be subject to man failure.

         

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 09, 2018 1:26 PM

oltmannd

 

 
Euclid
So does that mean that when the signal system was suspended, there was a resulting reduction of safety by the loss of automatic switch postion varification?

 

Yes.  The switch had a circuit controller and electric lock.  If the switch wasn't hard over against the stock rail in the normal position, the track circuit would knock down and the adjacent block signal would show "stop".

 

 
Euclid
If so, why wasn't some other temporary procedure or mechanism added to compensate for the temporary loss of switch position varification? 

 

With the signal system out, the territory reverted to "dark territory" rules.  59 mph max instead of 79 mph.  So, same level of safety as running in dark territory elsewhere.  Part of this is that the switch position to be recorded on form - by Federal Rule.

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2005/11/25/05-23303/fra-emergency-order-no-24-notice-no-2-emergency-order-no-24-hand-operated-main-track-switches

Was this done in this case?  I don't think anybody has said it has or hasn't been done.  Only statement I heard was that the freight released their movement authority and implicit in this was that switch was normal and locked.

 

Okay, if I understand you, the signal suspension reverted the territory back to the safety level of dark territory, which is less safe than signalized territory.  So the signal suspension reduced safety on that track.  

So why not impose something to fully compensate the loss of safety on the signal suspension, and thus retain the same safety level as before the signal suspension?

Otherwise, it seems inherently risky to reduce the safety protection on anything that is in operation with people used to the normal safety; even if the reduce level of safety is in operation elsewhere and considered acceptable.  

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Posted by Deggesty on Friday, February 09, 2018 1:39 PM

Euclid

 

 
oltmannd

 

 
Euclid
So does that mean that when the signal system was suspended, there was a resulting reduction of safety by the loss of automatic switch postion varification?

 

Yes.  The switch had a circuit controller and electric lock.  If the switch wasn't hard over against the stock rail in the normal position, the track circuit would knock down and the adjacent block signal would show "stop".

 

 
Euclid
If so, why wasn't some other temporary procedure or mechanism added to compensate for the temporary loss of switch position varification? 

 

With the signal system out, the territory reverted to "dark territory" rules.  59 mph max instead of 79 mph.  So, same level of safety as running in dark territory elsewhere.  Part of this is that the switch position to be recorded on form - by Federal Rule.

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2005/11/25/05-23303/fra-emergency-order-no-24-notice-no-2-emergency-order-no-24-hand-operated-main-track-switches

Was this done in this case?  I don't think anybody has said it has or hasn't been done.  Only statement I heard was that the freight released their movement authority and implicit in this was that switch was normal and locked.

 

 

 

Okay, if I understand you, the signal suspension reverted the territory back to the safety level of dark territory, which is less safe than signalized territory.  So the signal suspension reduced safety on that track.  

So why not impose something to fully compensate the loss of safety on the signal suspension, and thus retain the same safety level as before the signal suspension?

Otherwise, it seems inherently risky to reduce the safety protection on anything that is in operation with people used to the normal safety; even if the reduce level of safety is in operation elsewhere and considered acceptable.  

 

As has been stated, such a system was imposed by reverting to the rules in effect in dark territory. 

This has been obvious to most of the posters on this thread and the other threads that are related to the matter since the first report that the signal suspension was in effect at the time of the collision.

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 09, 2018 1:51 PM

Deggesty

 

 
Euclid

 

 
oltmannd

 

 
Euclid
So does that mean that when the signal system was suspended, there was a resulting reduction of safety by the loss of automatic switch postion varification?

 

Yes.  The switch had a circuit controller and electric lock.  If the switch wasn't hard over against the stock rail in the normal position, the track circuit would knock down and the adjacent block signal would show "stop".

 

 
Euclid
If so, why wasn't some other temporary procedure or mechanism added to compensate for the temporary loss of switch position varification? 

 

With the signal system out, the territory reverted to "dark territory" rules.  59 mph max instead of 79 mph.  So, same level of safety as running in dark territory elsewhere.  Part of this is that the switch position to be recorded on form - by Federal Rule.

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2005/11/25/05-23303/fra-emergency-order-no-24-notice-no-2-emergency-order-no-24-hand-operated-main-track-switches

Was this done in this case?  I don't think anybody has said it has or hasn't been done.  Only statement I heard was that the freight released their movement authority and implicit in this was that switch was normal and locked.

 

 

 

Okay, if I understand you, the signal suspension reverted the territory back to the safety level of dark territory, which is less safe than signalized territory.  So the signal suspension reduced safety on that track.  

So why not impose something to fully compensate the loss of safety on the signal suspension, and thus retain the same safety level as before the signal suspension?

Otherwise, it seems inherently risky to reduce the safety protection on anything that is in operation with people used to the normal safety; even if the reduce level of safety is in operation elsewhere and considered acceptable.  

 

 

 

As has been stated, such a system was imposed by reverting to the rules in effect in dark territory. 

 

This has been obvious to most of the posters on this thread and the other threads that are related to the matter since the first report that the signal suspension was in effect at the time of the collision.

 

That does not answer my question which you highlighted in red.  Why is dark territory sufficient for a line that has been deemed necessary to signalize?

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, February 09, 2018 2:17 PM

Euclid
That does not answer my question which you highlighted in red.  Why is dark territory sufficient for a line that has been deemed necessary to signalize?

I'm not sure I understand the point of this question.  The line WAS signalized, but what do you do if the signals then stop working for some reason?  Quit and go home in the van until they light up again?  No, you go to the procedures in the CSX rules and the Florence Division employee timetable -- which in this particular case resembles the procedure used for permanently-unsignaled line because, in a suspension, the signals may not be "dark" but you ignore anything about them.

Now, this has no bearing on suspending observation of EO 24, which calls for holograph confirmation of safe switch lining in ANY circumstance (which is a CYA formality) but also explicit confirmation to the manual-rules dispatcher that all the actions and conditions required to be signed off on that CYA form have, in fact, been completely done.

This specific thing, which after discussion was adopted as a Federal Rule specifically to prevent JUST this kind of incident, is the great concern here, and its evident failure the great mystery here, not anything to do with railroaders supposedly being unable to run trains in the absence of pretty colored lights.

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 09, 2018 2:21 PM

Euclid
So why not impose something to fully compensate the loss of safety on the signal suspension, and thus retain the same safety level as before the signal suspension?

Because the railroads operate in the real world with real constraints and limitations.  I understand to you this is all an academic exercise, but that's you.  You're alwasy looking for perfection.  It's a noble pursuit, but don't let it consume you.

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Posted by tree68 on Friday, February 09, 2018 2:41 PM

Euclid
That does not answer my question which you highlighted in red.  Why is dark territory sufficient for a line that has been deemed necessary to signalize?

Why was the line deemed necessary to signalize?  

Odds are it was less for safety than it was capacity.  Signals allow following trains to work at relatively short headway - long enough to stop without colliding with the train ahead, but not so long as to unduly restrict how many trains could be run on the line.

Safety - protection against broken rails, misaligned switches, etc, was likely a secondary consideration when the signals were installed.

Maintaining this level of capacity without signals would have required a manned block station every few miles, and at all passing sidings.

Even today it would require train crews to be in near constant contact with the dispatcher by radio.

It's rare to hear a dispatcher give a train territory less than 20-30 miles.  In many cases I hear the dispatcher here give a train the whole railroad - 60-70 miles - because there is no other traffic.  Sometimes it's just a few miles because that's all they need to do their work.

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:02 PM

Euclid
So why not impose something to fully compensate the loss of safety on the signal suspension, and thus retain the same safety level as before the signal suspension?

Dark territory rules attempt to do exactly this. That's why the lower speeds.  That's why the "belt and suspenders" rules on switch position.  

The safest course would be to not run the train.

The next safest course would be to run the whole thing at restricted speed.  

Of course, there is a need for railroads to actually function as transportation, so dark territory is allowed and the rules are codified and judged by the Federal regulators as adequate for safety.

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:04 PM

zugmann

 

 
Euclid
So why not impose something to fully compensate the loss of safety on the signal suspension, and thus retain the same safety level as before the signal suspension?

 

Because the railroads operate in the real world with real constraints and limitations.  I understand to you this is all an academic exercise, but that's you.  You're alwasy looking for perfection.  It's a noble pursuit, but don't let it consume you.

 

+1 ...obviously.

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:20 PM

oltmannd

 

 
Euclid
So why not impose something to fully compensate the loss of safety on the signal suspension, and thus retain the same safety level as before the signal suspension?

 

Dark territory rules attempt to do exactly this. That's why the lower speeds.  That's why the "belt and suspenders" rules on switch position.  

The safest course would be to not run the train.

The next safest course would be to run the whole thing at restricted speed.  

Of course, there is a need for railroads to actually function as transportation, so dark territory is allowed and the rules are codified and judged by the Federal regulators as adequate for safety.

 

Why is it that when I suggest a little more safety, people say, “Well we could just stop running trains” ?  Is there not a happy medium?  Obviously a restriction to 59 mph was not slow enough.  The OP here spoke of a system for guaranteed control over power grid switches and wondered why the railroads don’t have something equivalent.  He was immediately assured that they do have something equivalent; and yet that was not the case at the time and place of this collision.

Rather than shut the railroad down, why not impose a restricted speed order on approach to mainline switches?  Would that be just too much perfection? 

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Posted by Deggesty on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:22 PM

Thank you, Overmod, Larry, Zug, Don, for your responses. I was somewhat flabbergasted at the response to my answer (perhaps I should not have been so). 

From the day that an Erie superintendent first issued an order to the oprerating crews of an opposing train on, as rules were developed and put into force, trains have been operated safely, barring natural interventions--when the rules have been observed and common sense prevailed. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:29 PM

When I first went to the Jacksonvile Dispatch Center in 1990, when we had signal FAILURE on a subdivision, Management immediately wanted to have DTC (Direct Train Control) placed into effect on the affected territory - Beside the 2-3 hour or more delay in getting the Signal Suspension messages forulated, transmitted and repeated to ALL trains that were on the railroad at the time - DTC injects one other restriction with trains not having cabooses and flagmen - there can only be a single train in the established block at any point in time.  If you have two trains following each other through signalled territory on say 10 minute headway, the first train can enter the block if authorized and proceed at the maximum speed for the block.  The 2nd train comes to a stop at the entrance of the block and waits until the preceeding train reports his entire train is clear of the block and he releases his authority to the Dispatcher, who then contacts the following train and issues that train's authority.  What happens is that traffic seriously backs up over time with the restricted means of movement.  Management's thoughts at the time was freight trains could run 49 MPH through the block, which was correct, however, what it overlooked was the cascade effect of only permitting a single train in a block at a time.

Subsequently, management decided it was more efficient to 'talk trains past the stop signals' and let them operate at Restricted Speed looking out for trains ahead in addition to all the other things a crew is to look out for when operating at Restricted Speed.  

Sometimes, the 59 MPH and 49 MPH speeds for Passenger and Freight in Dark Territory is just a illusion in the real world of railroading.  Multiple 'inch worms' keep a subdivision relatively fluid, whereas 'speed demon' DTC or TWC dark railroading can tie it in knots.

There are NO PERFECT ANSWERS in the movement of trains by human beings.

 

         

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:29 PM

Euclid
 

 

 

Rather than shut the railroad down, why not impose a restricted speed order on approach to mainline switches?  Would that be just too much perfection? 

 

They did- 59 miles per hour.

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:35 PM

Murphy Siding

 

 
Euclid
 

 

 

Rather than shut the railroad down, why not impose a restricted speed order on approach to mainline switches?  Would that be just too much perfection? 

 

 

 

They did- 59 miles per hour.

 

 

That is not restricted speed.  

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Posted by oltmannd on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:45 PM

Euclid
Obviously a restriction to 59 mph was not slow enough. 

It would have been just fine if rules were followed. (unless sabotage was an issue).  

The alternative is restricting speed.  The heart and soul of restricting speed is "line of sight".  If you want solid protection from hand throws and broken rails in dark territory, you're stuck with restricting speed.  Better yet, restricting speed with high rail ahead of each train.

Obviously, this is not good enough to provide meaningful transportation.  The dark territory rules have been honed over decades and decades.  They are good for what they are.

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Posted by tree68 on Friday, February 09, 2018 3:59 PM

Euclid
Rather than shut the railroad down, why not impose a restricted speed order on approach to mainline switches?

Are you proposing restricted speed (a method of operation which is specifically spelled out in the rules), or "a restricted speed?"  And if you're suggesting "a restricted speed," what would you suggest it be?

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:03 PM

Euclid
 
Murphy Siding

 

 
Euclid
 

 

 

Rather than shut the railroad down, why not impose a restricted speed order on approach to mainline switches?  Would that be just too much perfection? 

 

 

 

They did- 59 miles per hour.

 

 

 

 

That is not restricted speed.  

 

Well, yes it is. The normal track speed allowed was 79 mph and they restricted it to 59 mph.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:03 PM

Assuming we are all in accord with what 'restricted speed' means with no working signals -- which involves the ability to make a safe stop in half the sight distance -- it might be interesting to take a map of the Florence Division, physically note all the critical restrictions including facing-point switches, and develop a train-speed map that provides restricted-speed protection for all the restrictions.  I think that is what Euclid is calling for, and at least theoretically this might extend to running in the equivalent of 'sections' where the following train can be stopped in half the distance to the visible end or EOT of the train ahead, giving you inchworms.  Until this is actually laid out and modeled all we have is he-said she-said with cross-accusations of misunderstanding, which I find I'm too tired to watch any more.  And I find to my despair that I have a food allergy, possibly one acquired after too long reading here and on RyPN, to popcorn.

Suspect that will indeed be 'too slow to work' as well as nerve-wracking to crews, but I do think it deserves a calculation with 'real numbers'  to confirm or deny.

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:27 PM

tree68
Are you proposing restricted speed (a method of operation which is specifically spelled out in the rules), or "a restricted speed?" And if you're suggesting "a restricted speed," what would you suggest it be?

 

Restricted speed isn't necessarily necessary.  If you're just concerned with switchpoints, you can operate prepared to stop at each facing one.  

We had that rule for running opposed in 251 territory for a bit.  Never understood it, really.

 

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:32 PM
I am talking about rule-defined “restricted speed.”  If the switch points are visible at 250 feet, you approach no faster than the speed at which you can stop within 125 feet.     
 
As I understand it, the switch position would have been known to the dispatcher if the signals had not been suspended.  Being that they were suspended, the dispatcher had to rely on verbal information conveyed by the freight conductor.  Maybe there are forms to sign to certify the verbal information but I am not familiar with any of that. In any case, that part appears to have failed.  It reminds me of the Chester wreck where permission was granted, but expired without proper information exchanges and understandings.
 
In any case, it sounds like it was mainly or exclusively switch position verification that was compromised in the suspension of signals.   
 
So, to address that narrow problem, all I am suggesting is to impose an approach speed to switches which will enable engineers to spot the switch points and stop short if they are wrong. 

Would that be a problematic disruption?  How many miles of track, how many switches, and for how many days are we talking about?

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:35 PM

Euclid
As I understand it, the switch position would have been known to the dispatcher if the signals had not been suspended.

Most liklely not.  If it was anything like the software I used, (s)he would have just had a TOL show up on his board. 

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:37 PM

Euclid
It reminds me of the Chester wreck where permission was granted, but expired without proper information exchanges and understandings.

Be careful with using the term "expired".  Depends on rule book, but for us, certain permissions never expire.  They can be fulfilled, cancelled or voided - but don't expire. 

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:39 PM

Euclid
So, to address that narrow problem, all I am suggesting is to impose an approach speed to switches which will enable engineers to spot the switch points and stop short if they are wrong.

An approach speed.  Define that. Are we operating the whole block restricting?  Or just near the switches?  How far in advance?  As any day 1 RRer can tell you, "restricted" is not a speed.  It's a method of operation.  Can't just throw the term around willy-nilly.

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:39 PM

zugmann

 

 
Euclid
As I understand it, the switch position would have been known to the dispatcher if the signals had not been suspended.

 

Most liklely not.  If it was anything like the software I used, (s)he would have just had a TOL show up on his board. 

 

Okay.  I thought that is what Balt said earlier here or in another thread.  The gist of it was that because the signals had been suspended, there was lack of direct remote knowledge of the switch position.  But it was not entirely clear to me.  

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Friday, February 09, 2018 4:42 PM

Euclid
I am talking about rule-defined “restricted speed.”  If the switch points are visible at 250 feet, you approach no faster than the speed at which you can stop within 125 feet.     
 
As I understand it, the switch position would have been known to the dispatcher if the signals had not been suspended.  Being that they were suspended, the dispatcher had to rely on verbal information conveyed by the freight conductor.  Maybe there are forms to sign to certify the verbal information but I am not familiar with any of that. In any case, that part appears to have failed.  It reminds me of the Chester wreck where permission was granted, but expired without proper information exchanges and understandings.
 
In any case, it sounds like it was mainly or exclusively switch position verification that was compromised in the suspension of signals.   
 
So, to address that narrow problem, all I am suggesting is to impose an approach speed to switches which will enable engineers to spot the switch points and stop short if they are wrong. 

Would that be a problematic disruption?  How many miles of track, how many switches, and for how many days are we talking about?

 

At what speed would they be able to stop the train in 125 feet? To keep from having a restricted speed that varied with the visibility available for each switch, you'd probably just end up rolling along at whatever the most restricted speed was.

Thanks to Chris / CopCarSS for my avatar.

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