Trains.com

An interesting twist

7605 views
287 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    December 2017
  • 2,665 posts
An interesting twist
Posted by Lithonia Operator on Thursday, January 23, 2020 8:01 AM

Still in training.


  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,672 posts
Posted by Overmod on Thursday, January 23, 2020 8:30 AM

Hopefully Brian will post this Newswire story openly here so non-subscribers can read it.  The story is that the engineer who crashed the Cascades Talgo on its 'maiden run' is suing Amtrak for "insufficient training".

It is possible to read the comments on the Newswire story without access to the article itself.  So far the readers are not very sympathetic to the engineer.

My suspicion is that this is almost purely a legal ploy, and I look forward to further informed discussion on this.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Thursday, January 23, 2020 8:42 AM

Court documents, and any trial (if it comes to that) could shed some interesting light on exactly what the training consisted of. It seems like I've read some references to the nature and extent of the training, but none were first-hand, IIRC.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,672 posts
Posted by Overmod on Thursday, January 23, 2020 9:09 AM

The training issue to watch with the most scrutiny will involve the known great danger of having a long downhill section at 79mph terminated by a hard 30mph curve.  I am still aghast that any agency responsible for passengers would consider designing such a thing, let alone building it out, let alone inadequately training people how to navigate it in the dark.  But given all that, how much training, and how much emphasis, was placed on the importance of not overrunning the end of that stretch, especially with a lightweight articulated train with a heavy dead engine on the back end?  

I'm not going to prejudge the findings, since (as with everyone else) I don't have the details of the specific Amtrak training.  But I do not think even technically-deficient attention to the severity of that concern, in the training materials, even begins to excuse the lack of attention and common sense required to produce an accident of the magnitude observed.

  • Member since
    December 2001
  • From: Denver / La Junta
  • 10,587 posts
Posted by mudchicken on Thursday, January 23, 2020 10:14 AM

Mod:

Overmod

The training issue to watch with the most scrutiny will involve the known great danger of having a long downhill section at 79mph terminated by a hard 30mph curve.  I am still aghast that any agency responsible for passengers would consider designing such a thing, let alone building it out, let alone inadequately training people how to navigate it in the dark.  But given all that, how much training, and how much emphasis, was placed on the importance of not overrunning the end of that stretch, especially with a lightweight articulated train with a heavy dead engine on the back end?  

I'm not going to prejudge the findings, since (as with everyone else) I don't have the details of the specific Amtrak training.  But I do not think even technically-deficient attention to the severity of that concern, in the training materials, even begins to excuse the lack of attention and common sense required to produce an accident of the magnitude observed.

 

Mod: Alignment and original railroad were there long before the "Agency" saw the light of day. Interstate alignment that physically hemmed the curve - in was there before appearance of the "agency" (Even though the "agency" is directly related.) When you leave bus people in charge of a railroad, you get this type of a mis-matched result. (note: I'm agreeing with you.) Plenty of other places in the country where this is happening - follow the money. Lawsuit will not absolve locomotive engineer of his culpability in this.(he's got company)..... The decision to leave the physical curve where it was goes pretty high up in the chain. NP/BN were not running passenger trains there and the trains they ran went at a considerably lesser speed.

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west
  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 7,720 posts
Posted by Euclid on Thursday, January 23, 2020 10:24 AM
Throughout the news coverage, there was the claim that Amtrak did not adequately familiarize crews with the new route.  The accident seems to bear that out.  But we have discussed vetting new employees to see if they have the right stuff, so to speak.  The right stuff might be said to be just common sense.  The presumption is that the right stuff cannot be trained or learned, but rather it is in a person’s nature. 
 
So people lacking the right stuff cannot be adequately trained, and should not be hired in the first place.  In my opinion, this engineer lacked the right stuff.  Anyone who was confronted with the situation he faced should have had the common sense that his lack of knowing his location required him to slow down.  Instead, he sped on and hoped for a good outcome.   

He knew he was inadequately trained, and yet he sped on with the feeling that it his ignorance was Amtrak’s fault.  He should have never been hired.  

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Thursday, January 23, 2020 10:50 AM

I'm not excusing anyone, but it seems I read there were two extra people in the cab because of it being the inaugural run. (Dignitaries?) I wouldn't be surprised if distraction was a big issue.

Maybe I'm remembering that wrong. ??

It sems to me there should have been only the engineer (WITH proper training) and one very experienced (on that line) BNSF* engineer, and maybe a Road Foreman of Engines.

(*I can't remember if BNSF ran freights there, or a short line. Maybe an engineer from the shortline would have been better.)

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,672 posts
Posted by Overmod on Thursday, January 23, 2020 11:32 AM

To make my view a little clearer: I have little complaint with there being an obligate 30mph hard restriction on that route (and the alternatives to replacing it so expensive as to be ruled out).  In fact, looking at the physical plant in overhead view you can see how the alignment has been made to allow the greatest possible radius on the bridge itself, and I see no reason not to believe the approach and departure spirals weren't optimized.  The thing that is appalling is to have the long straight stretch at 79 terminate directly at entry to that curve, rather than have at least one block at some kind of permanent restricted approach, signaled appropriately with color lights and not little smashboards slantboards.

Much will probably be made of how the line and its signaling were designed around PTC, which 'should have' been running as part of a "completed" Washington DOT project, and (just as with Amtrak 188) stopped the train timely when the PIC screwed the pooch.  I do not see how that changes the need to have clear transition from high speed to 'approach' with full one-block warning -- which I think is a large part of the situations MC is describing.  

Moreover, since we made the (idiotic, in my non-professional opinion) choice to make PTC an overlay on physical signals... the physical signals should have been built out as restrictive by default.  They could always be fitted with green or yellow aspects 'later' as PTC took over the job, silly as it might be to show 'no restriction' for 79mph approaching a Dead Man's Curve -- but the safe course would have been followed.

  • Member since
    September 2010
  • 2,514 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Thursday, January 23, 2020 6:04 PM

I can see the lawyers at work. Engineer is told to take the train to Portland. He does not know the route but thinks the signals will guide him. (Wrong) He has a clear signal so he takes off and goes 79mph. And as the song in the MUSIC MAN says "YOU'VE GOT TO KNOW THE TERRITORY" but he did not. Does that make him responsible for the accident? Partly. Does AMTRAK have the responsibility to assign a qualified engineer to operate its train? ABSOLUTLY! Was he qualified? NO. What would have happened if he had said. "I am not qualified. I can't take this assignment? Pressure? Loss of income? I think he bears some responsibility for not having the moxie to say "I am not qualified. I can't take this assignment" Who at Amtrak is responsible for assigning him? That chain of command is what to me puts the responsibility on AMTRAK. AMTRAK provided the train and the engineer and represented to the owner of the track (Sound Transit) that they were using trained personel to operate their equipment. They DID NOT. 

Now the engineer has to make the case that he had no choice but to take the train, that AMTRAK made him take the train and that he had no choice but to take the train. And that since he did as instructed, AMTRAK owes him for improperly training him. Did he take the train knowing he was not properly trained? How do you know when you are trained? Can he win that gambit? Stay tuned. As 243129 has argued, AMTRAK has a lousy safety culture and this reinforces that claim. 

  • Member since
    December 2001
  • From: Denver / La Junta
  • 10,587 posts
Posted by mudchicken on Thursday, January 23, 2020 7:15 PM

It's more than Amtrak with the awful safety culture. Most transit is that way as well.

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west
  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 23,323 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, January 23, 2020 7:42 PM

Electroliner 1935
I can see the lawyers at work. Engineer is told to take the train to Portland. He does not know the route but thinks the signals will guide him. (Wrong) He has a clear signal so he takes off and goes 79mph. And as the song in the MUSIC MAN says "YOU'VE GOT TO KNOW THE TERRITORY" but he did not. Does that make him responsible for the accident? Partly. Does AMTRAK have the responsibility to assign a qualified engineer to operate its train? ABSOLUTLY! Was he qualified? NO. What would have happened if he had said. "I am not qualified. I can't take this assignment? Pressure? Loss of income? I think he bears some responsibility for not having the moxie to say "I am not qualified. I can't take this assignment" Who at Amtrak is responsible for assigning him? That chain of command is what to me puts the responsibility on AMTRAK. AMTRAK provided the train and the engineer and represented to the owner of the track (Sound Transit) that they were using trained personel to operate their equipment. They DID NOT. 

Now the engineer has to make the case that he had no choice but to take the train, that AMTRAK made him take the train and that he had no choice but to take the train. And that since he did as instructed, AMTRAK owes him for improperly training him. Did he take the train knowing he was not properly trained? How do you know when you are trained? Can he win that gambit? Stay tuned. As 243129 has argued, AMTRAK has a lousy safety culture and this reinforces that claim. 

If a employee feels they are 'not properly qualified' to operate over a particular territory or part of a territory - it is their responsibility to notify 'proper authorities'.  In most cases this would be then individual telling the Caller that is notifying them of the assignment that they are called for - the employee should tell the Caller they cannot accept the call because they are not qualified.  The Caller will respond - you are shown as qualified on our records.  Then the fight begins - if a employee truly feels he is not qualified for the run they must stand their ground - not doing so can result in the exact situation that is in question.

If you feel you are NOT QUALIFIED, YOU ARE NOT QUALIFIED.  You and only YOU are knowledgeable in knowing what you are doing, if you feel you don't know what you are doing - DON'T DO IT!  Let the battle scars happen.

Yes Amtrak has a bad Safety Culture - because their employees permit and reinforce the bad safety culture.  You will be treated in the manner you allow yourself to be treated.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 7,720 posts
Posted by Euclid on Friday, January 24, 2020 9:37 AM

Lithonia Operator

I'm not excusing anyone, but it seems I read there were two extra people in the cab because of it being the inaugural run. (Dignitaries?) I wouldn't be surprised if distraction was a big issue.

There was one other person (a conductor) in the cab with the engineer.  The engineer later said he had not felt distracted due to another person in the cab with him.  Recordings of their conversation have been published.  I don’t have them in front of me, but as I recall, it was interesting to hear the engineer complain to his conductor about how the company acted on other occasions to send him into territory he had never been in before.  In their conversation, this topic came up in relation to them wondering if they knew the territory well enough for run they were about to make.
 
As I recall, the discussion began before the train had departed from its origination, and continued off and on right up to the point of disaster.  The last transmission was the engineer saying something like, “Aw we’re dead” as his engine was about to walk off the edge of the curve and drive through the woods at about 80 mph.
 
As I read the transcript about the engineer complaining about how Amtrak had previously sent him into territory he was unfamiliar with, it portrayed a mindset that seem to fit perfectly with what happened on his dreadful first run of this train.  In both cases, this engineer holds his employer responsible for sending him on a route that he was not entirely qualified for.  The engineer did not know his territory, and yet engineers must know their territory.  But this engineer blames Amtrak for not educating him.  This guy should have never been hired.  You don’t want engineers who make excuses for why they cannot follow the rules.
 
Keep in mind that this was a very special event with the first run of that new train and route.  You can’t dismiss the effect of all the fanfare.  Can you imagine an engineer suddenly slowing way down because he does not have any experience of the route and he is not sure of his location?   
 
To me, the most important legal question is this:
 
Who decides that an engineer is prohibited from running in a territory that he is not entirely familiar with?  Is it the railroad company that sent the engineer into that territory with which he was not entirely familiar; or is it the engineer that went into that territory while knowing he was partly unfamiliar with it?
 
The railroad company will probably say it is the engineer’s responsibility to know the territory.  The court trail may conclude that the railroad company was responsible for making sure the engineer knew the territory.  The railroad company hired and trained the engineer.  By assigning the first run of the train to him, they had to believe he knew the territory. 
 
In court, the engineer has two options:
 

1)   Argue that Amtrak did not train him well enough.

2)   Argue that he did not know what he did not know about the territory.

 

He would probably resort to strategy #1, but I think his best bet would be strategy #2.

 
  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Friday, January 24, 2020 10:15 AM

Euclid

Lithonia Operator

I'm not excusing anyone, but it seems I read there were two extra people in the cab because of it being the inaugural run. (Dignitaries?) I wouldn't be surprised if distraction was a big issue.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Friday, January 24, 2020 10:58 AM

Could someone explain a few things to me about how speed restricions were communicated (or supposed to be communicated) on this line.

I think the overall speed limit was 79. How was the engineer supposed to know (other than visually and by is memory) 1) where he was, and 2) what the speed limit was at each point on the line.

Also, I have read the (not yet in service) PTC being an "overlay" on the block signals. What does that mean, exactly? Without having much knowledge of these things, my instinct is that OM is correct about overlay (whatever that means) being a bad idea. I say that, because I thought PTC was supposed to an addtional, independent, layer of safety.

Finally, OM mentions "smashboards." My understanding of smashboards was that they are now-antique things that physically smacked the train (or trainman) to warn of clearance issues ahead. Does that also mean, currently,  a simple speed-limit sign next to the tracks? And is that all that engineer had as a guide on that stretch?

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,672 posts
Posted by Overmod on Friday, January 24, 2020 11:05 AM

To remember better, there's no better approach than look at the docket:

https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms/search/hitlist.cfm?docketID=61332&CFID=2042738&CFTOKEN=9ec0153f61ca69c9-287835A2-CAA9-86A3-935E882E234E0D8F

(Note that this as provided conflates information about Cayce with information on this accident - do not think you have the 'wrong' listing because you see CSX references...)

The transcript of the interview with engineer Brown is on p.8.  Two interviews with relevant RFE on p.9.  I have not reviewed many of the other exhibits here but some of them should be of interest.  Note the points already being made in the questioning that too many people in the cab during training might interfere with view out and hence acquiring a sense of 'where on the railroad' he was, especially after dark.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,672 posts
Posted by Overmod on Friday, January 24, 2020 11:23 AM

Lithonia Operator
I think the overall speed limit was 79. How was the engineer supposed to know (other than visually and by is memory) 1) where he was, and 2) what the speed limit was at each point on the line.

(1) is the reason for route knowledge and qualification.  (As recounted by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi, in a somewhat more rigorous context).  There is not yet a reliable inertial-navigation system provided on locomotives, although that is technically possible both through GPS and other technology.  Note that Steve Brown was familiar with operations on many lines in the area, probably including the 'pre-rebuilding' version of this line.  Part of keeping a safe lookout is to keep track of where your train is, and (just as with Bostian on 188) you need to be sure not to confuse one part of the route with another -- something that happened back in the day, too; see the N&W Tug Fork accident with a class J as a case in point.

(2) the speed limit is known generally from timetable, referenced to mileposts, but is also provided on this line by slantboards that show freight and passenger speeds.  A problem is that these are intended more as formal indication rather than anticipation: we have had discussion on these in the 501 accident threads

 

Also, I have read the (not yet in service) PTC being an "overlay" on the block signals. What does that mean, exactly? Without having much knowledge of these things, my instinct is that OM is correct about overlay (whatever that means) being a bad idea. I say that, because I thought PTC was supposed to an addtional, independent, layer of safety.

What the 'overlay' implies is that the signal system and all its considerations are still the 'rule' for train management, and the functions of the PTC system are 'overlaid' on that framework rather than replacing it (as for CBTC).

This is not necessarily a "bad" thing, just an excessively limiting one that can lead to problems if there is any difficulty with the signal system or the PTC infrastructure functioning correctly as designed.  

In this particular case, the problem I have is that the 'signal system' explicitly lacked authority to control a train coming off the 79mph segment under control.  As far as I can see it was "assumed" that functional PTC would have understood the time and distance implications of high speed past the critical point of the 'missed' speed-reduction warning boards, and provided either proportional control braking or a prompt indication and penalty braking (to a full stop), either of which would have precluded arriving at the curve at high enough speed.  And this was very likely the reason no 'approach' signaling was in place to control train movement in that two-mile section. 

Finally, OM mentions "smashboards." My understanding of smashboards was that they are now-antique things that physically smacked the train (or trainman) to warn of clearance issues ahead. Does that also mean, currently,  a simple speed-limit sign next to the tracks? And is that all that engineer had as a guide on that stretch?

I think you are right; I meant 'slantboards'.  There are some pictures of these things in the accident threads; they show two speed limits on backgrounds of different colors, one for passenger and one for freight.  As I recall they are highly reflective.  The problem is that if you are distracted for the period of time you're approaching and passing one, you'll have no idea it was there.

And yes, in the absence of functioning PTC this was the only warning of a need for upcoming speed reduction for the hard 30mph curve.  There was as I recall a permanent 'yellow' indication a couple of hundred feet in front of the curve, and this would or should have been visible some time in advance, but even this was not seen in time for material speed reduction.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Friday, January 24, 2020 11:43 AM

Thanks for all that, OM.

I'm having to run out the door right now. But once I've digested what you wrote, I might have a few more questions.

  • Member since
    August 2005
  • From: At the Crossroads of the West
  • 11,013 posts
Posted by Deggesty on Friday, January 24, 2020 2:16 PM

As to "slantboards," each road had its own idea as to the form of speed signs, However, whatever the form, the signs indicate the maximum allowed speeds on a given sector, with a consistent format--usually with the highest speed at the top and the lowest speed at the bottom. I noticed signs with three speed limits between Seattle and Portland: Talgo, other passenger equipment, and freight. There are also signs which indicate that the speed may be increased. Some roads simply have the speed limits posted on them--and engine crew KNOW that the upper number is for passenger and the lower number is for freight.

If you know the territory, you know where the speed signs are, and you observe their instructions  carefully.

Johnny

  • Member since
    March 2003
  • From: Central Iowa
  • 6,478 posts
Posted by jeffhergert on Friday, January 24, 2020 5:03 PM

PTC does not use the signal system to enforce permanent or temporary speed restrictions.  The overlay of the signal system only pertains to track occupancy.  Whether that occupancy is due to a train/equipment in the signal block, an open hand throw switch or a broken rail.  Using the existing signal system PTC (current version) 'knows' there is something within the signal block, but not exactly where it is.

PTC track data base 'knows' where the speed restrictions are.  The PTC display shows "Next Target", what the allowable speed is and counts down the distance to it.  The next target is the next condition and speed required that will be encountered that is less than the current maximun authorized speed.  The next target condition can be due to a speed restriction (permanent or temporary), block signal indication, or limits of authority.  (Speed for limit of authority is 0 mph.)  The count down begins as early as 6 miles, or when reaching the first target speed condition and then the distance to the next slower target speed when less than 6 miles.  I've had the count down distance because of circumstances be a few hundred feet.  

The system calculates stopping distance and the display provides a visual display of warning distance and stopping distance.  It is constantly updated and changes as speed and/or throttle/braking force is changed.  The system gives a warning when it thinks you will be overspeed for a particular target.  It counts down how many seconds before it will make a penalty brake application.  The count also recalculates.  It's possible as you are slowing to stop and hold the count if it detects that the train is slowing enough for the system to wait on taking action.  If while slowing it determines you will slow or stop without any automatic action, the warning will disappear.  If, for example, you release brakes or start applying power, if it determines you will again be overspeed, the warning comes back.

Had PTC been in effect and no other condition requiring less than maximum speed, the display would display a green track segment line meaning proceed at maximum speed.  At 6 miles out, the Next Target would change from "none within 6 miles" to "speed 30 mph 6.0 miles" and start counting down to the point of restriction. Upon reaching one mile, the distance turns to footage remaining.

Jeff

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Friday, January 24, 2020 8:10 PM

jeffhergert

PTC does not use the signal system to enforce permanent or temporary speed restrictions.  The overlay of the signal system only pertains to track occupancy.  Whether that occupancy is due to a train/equipment in the signal block, an open hand throw switch or a broken rail.  Using the existing signal system PTC (current version) 'knows' there is something within the signal block, but not exactly where it is.

PTC track data base 'knows' where the speed restrictions are.  The PTC display shows "Next Target", what the allowable speed is and counts down the distance to it.  The next target is the next condition and speed required that will be encountered that is less than the current maximun authorized speed.  The next target condition can be due to a speed restriction (permanent or temporary), block signal indication, or limits of authority.  (Speed for limit of authority is 0 mph.)  The count down begins as early as 6 miles, or when reaching the first target speed condition and then the distance to the next slower target speed when less than 6 miles.  I've had the count down distance because of circumstances be a few hundred feet.  

The system calculates stopping distance and the display provides a visual display of warning distance and stopping distance.  It is constantly updated and changes as speed and/or throttle/braking force is changed.  The system gives a warning when it thinks you will be overspeed for a particular target.  It counts down how many seconds before it will make a penalty brake application.  The count also recalculates.  It's possible as you are slowing to stop and hold the count if it detects that the train is slowing enough for the system to wait on taking action.  If while slowing it determines you will slow or stop without any automatic action, the warning will disappear.  If, for example, you release brakes or start applying power, if it determines you will again be overspeed, the warning comes back.

Had PTC been in effect and no other condition requiring less than maximum speed, the display would display a green track segment line meaning proceed at maximum speed.  At 6 miles out, the Next Target would change from "none within 6 miles" to "speed 30 mph 6.0 miles" and start counting down to the point of restriction. Upon reaching one mile, the distance turns to footage remaining.

Jeff

 

I've read a lot of negative things about PTC, but that sounds pretty damn good to me! Impressive.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Friday, January 24, 2020 10:44 PM

Man, it's painful reading the interview with that poor engineer. I feel bad for the guy. But it does seem like after a certain amount of time looking for MP 18 and not finding it, he should have concluded he might have missed it and begun braking hard.

It also seems like the markers were woefully inadequate. What's the point of having a 30 mph sign if it's not positioned such that a train can get from 79 down to 30 before the curve?

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 23,323 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Friday, January 24, 2020 10:53 PM

Lithonia Operator
Man, it's painful reading the interview with that poor engineer. I feel bad for the guy. But it does seem like after a certain amount of time looking for MP 18 and not finding it, he should have concluded he might have missed it and begun braking hard.  It also seems like the markers were woefully inadequate. What's the point of having a 30 mph sign if it's not positioned such that a train can get from 79 down to 30 before the curve?

When you are lost - you are lost.  The internal fog the engineer was operating in would not permit him to recognize any of the landmarks on the route.

Historically, Permanent Slow Signs are place at the start of the restriction.  On CSX Temporary Speed Restrictions do have a 'advance warning sign' that is placed 2 miles in advance of the restriction, WHEN SIGNS ARE USED.  Not all Temporary Speed Restrictions will have signs displayed.  The Train Message that the slow order is issued on will indicate if signs are dispalyed or not.

Qualifications, Qualifications, Qualifications - Engineers need to be 'intimately' qualified on the territory they operate over.  The Engineer in this instance was not.  Being a Engineer you can't 'fake it until you make it', the downside is much too steep as this incident demonstrates.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 7,720 posts
Posted by Euclid on Saturday, January 25, 2020 8:26 AM

Lithonia Operator

Man, it's painful reading the interview with that poor engineer. I feel bad for the guy. But it does seem like after a certain amount of time looking for MP 18 and not finding it, he should have concluded he might have missed it and begun braking hard.

It also seems like the markers were woefully inadequate. What's the point of having a 30 mph sign if it's not positioned such that a train can get from 79 down to 30 before the curve?

 

The signs and markers are only secondary references.  The critical control is that you have to know the territory.  That is not just a happy generalization.  You must know every inch of the territory.  This engineer never met that requirement.  He was also aware of his lack of knowing the territory.  He is not the victim here.  The real victims are those who suffered or died due to his ciminal negligence.  He should have refused to take make that run. 

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Saturday, January 25, 2020 8:35 AM

I agree that when you're lost, you're lost. But there's also the question of do you know you're lost. And this engineer was at least begininng to suspect he was lost. As soon as any doubt or confusion crept in, it was time to hit the brakes.

I will give him credit for one thing: at the time, he did not try to put any of it off on anyone else.

Now times have changed, and he realizes that, a) in fact he was not adequately trained or, b) this is a cynical money-grab.

It seems to me he has an pretty good, but not great, case. The training and familiarization was a pathetic sad joke. 2-3 trips, during which he was not always in the lead unit, much less the engineer's seat. Training sessions with two many people in the cab for adequate visibility. Etc., etc., etc. I hope he wins the case, actually, so as to get Amtrak's attention where it hurts. But OTOH, he should have marked off as unqualified, not taken the run. Now, in the interview he said he felt confident; that will hurt his civil case. Win or lose though, my feeling is the case must go forward, to expose how inadequate the training was.

Dose anyone know: was this engineer fired?

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Saturday, January 25, 2020 9:02 AM

Perhaps it is "traditional" for a speed limit sign to be right at the curve or restriction. And maybe that's good, because it creates a visual/mental connection for learning/reinforcement purposes; "This curve is a 30."

However, if that practice is going to endure, it seems to me that you must also have (and let's assume for a moment a level grade, even though this was not): 1) a fixed marker, with a flashing yellow light, two miles beforehand, saying "30 mph Curve 2 Miles Ahead", and then 2) a fixed marker, with a flashing red light one mile before the curve, saying "30 mph Curve 1 Mile Ahead."

Maybe those two markers could also transmit an audible signal to inside the cab, with the second warning more urgent-sounding than the first.

This is a fast train, a passenger train, and it crosses a busy Interstate via the route's most dangerous curves. The situation calls for serious measures. Amtrak apparently figured it could save some bucks with half-ass training, and no special signs/signals.

They should ask their lawyers how much they've "saved" on this travesty so far ...

What a disgrace.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Saturday, January 25, 2020 9:17 AM

My understanding is that "full-service" is the maximum braking short of emergency. Does this mean some air is retained in the train pipe, just not much? Or does it mean it's a full release of air, but at a slower rate?

And what does "blended" or "blending" mean?

The engineer said he used "full-service with blending." He said he had been told that full-service with blending would provide the same braking as emergency, so he chose the former. A layman like me has to wonder: if they are truly THE SAME, then why do we have both? I have to think they are not identical.

My understanding is that with emergency, once a train stops, the entire pipe and reservoirs will have to be fully re-charged. Correct? Was this engineer's decision perhaps colored by the fact that he did not think he needed to fully stop, and that he did not want to have to fully recharge the train line?

What IS the difference between emergency and full-service-with-blending?

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Saturday, January 25, 2020 9:30 AM

Euclid

 

 
Lithonia Operator

Man, it's painful reading the interview with that poor engineer. I feel bad for the guy. But it does seem like after a certain amount of time looking for MP 18 and not finding it, he should have concluded he might have missed it and begun braking hard.

It also seems like the markers were woefully inadequate. What's the point of having a 30 mph sign if it's not positioned such that a train can get from 79 down to 30 before the curve?

 

 

 

The signs and markers are only secondary references.  The critical control is that you have to know the territory.  That is not just a happy generalization.  You must know every inch of the territory.  This engineer never met that requirement.  He was also aware of his lack of knowing the territory.  He is not the victim here.  The real victims are those who suffered or died due to his ciminal negligence.  He should have refused to take make that run. 

 

 

I agree. At the same time he admits to not being very familiar with the route, he is also saying he felt confident and that the route was staighforward.

What I have to wonder is how much pressure there was from management. Can an engineer say, "I need at least five more round-trips accompanied by a route-seasoned engineer or an RFE before I'll do this run alone?" My guess is he didn't feel he had much choice regarding taking the run.

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 7,720 posts
Posted by Euclid on Saturday, January 25, 2020 9:37 AM

Lithonia Operator

I agree that when you're lost, you're lost. But there's also the question of do you know you're lost. And this engineer was at least begininng to suspect he was lost. As soon as any doubt or confusion crept in, it was time to hit the brakes.

I will give him credit for one thing: at the time, he did not try to put any of it off on anyone else.

If prior to taking the run, he did not have every inch of that route memorized with all the pertinent landmarks, including curves, grades, switches, crossings, bridges, etc.; he was lost; and he should not have taken the run.  And you don't have the option of not knowing what you do not know.  I disagree with your conclusion that he did not put it off on anyone else.  I think he did exactly the opposite.  He made himself into a victim of Amtrak because they gave him a run for which he was not qualified.   

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Saturday, January 25, 2020 9:43 AM

It seems like the FRA needs to issue hard and fast rules for familiarization on new territory, keyed to mileage, with no exceptions.

For example: 50 miles, 5 R/Ts; 100 miles, 8 R/Ts; 200 miles, 12 R/Ts. Etc.

Perhaps the number of runs could be reduced slightly for routes with no running over 39 mph. Conversely, add 30% more runs for passenger train qualifying.

It seems that waaaay too much is being left in the hands of the cost-conscious railroads.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,768 posts
Posted by MMLDelete on Saturday, January 25, 2020 9:48 AM

I feel at the time of the interview he was not putting it off on anyone else.

Once he sues, that goes out the window. But I still think the case, particularly if it goes to trail, will be a good thing for the industry.

(I did not see how much he's suing for. My impression is litigators start out at about 1000% of what they hope to eventually settle on.)

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy