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Amtrak 501 Derail in Washington State

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 12:10 PM

BaltACD

Considering how the NTSB's officials are being directly quoted in this article, I don't know if we can place our former level of trust in the NTSB, which over the years has become a place for political hacks with limited if any knowledge on the subject matter at hand.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/amtrak-derailment-conductor-was-cab-engineer-deadly-washington-train-crash-n831341

 

I tend to agree with your characterization of the NTSB.  So far, they have given conflicting statemens as to how many were in the cab, and I have not heard any correction to explain the discrepancy.  Therefore, I do not expect anything they say at this time to be accurate.  As they like to say "it is too early."

I would not be surprised if we later learn that all of this current information about speeds and brake applications is found to be incrorrect.

Of course people are free to draw no conclusions about what happened until the NTSB releases its final conclusion.  But the NTSB is providing preliminary information.  So obviously, they must expect us to process that information in some way that leads toward that final conclusion.     

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 12:45 PM

two to three degree curves seem to predominate on most of the high capacity mainlines...YMMV....

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 12:57 PM

BaltACD
Considering how the NTSB's officials are being directly quoted in this article, I don't know if we can place our former level of trust in the NTSB, which over the years has become a place for political hacks with limited if any knowledge on the subject matter at hand.

Could you please explain? I haven't found anything disturbing:
Regards, Volker

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Posted by oltmannd on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:21 PM

I don't recall Conrail using speed signs for anything other than temporary restrictions.  Curves et. al., with reduced speed are only in timetable.  I believe NS is the same way.

-Don (Random stuff, mostly about trains - what else? http://blerfblog.blogspot.com/

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:24 PM

VOLKER LANDWEHR
 
BaltACD
Considering how the NTSB's officials are being directly quoted in this article, I don't know if we can place our former level of trust in the NTSB, which over the years has become a place for political hacks with limited if any knowledge on the subject matter at hand. 

Could you please explain? I haven't found anything disturbing:
Regards, Volker

To a 51 year railroader, the NTSB spokesperson in this particular incident sounds as if she had little if any knowledge of railroad terminology or operating practices.

In reading NTSB accident reports - from all forms of transportation, not just railroads, they now come across as pushing some political agenda.

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:24 PM

Something no one else has mentioned is that this new route is a mountain railroad. By that I mean that the middle portion is attop a plateu, but both ends feature a steep, about 2%, climb up and down. We have seen what is at the south grade is and what is at the bottom. The North end features a new long bridge that ends at the flat spot where the new depot is.

ATK engineers between Seattle and Portland, and Seattle and Vancouver BC are flatlanders, having nothing more than 1% grades to deal with. It may be that the trainers did not instill sufficient respect for these steep down grades.

Mac

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Posted by Norm48327 on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:28 PM

Jeff,

Not totally sure what you mean but local to me where CSX crosses CN at Holly, MI the CSX speed limit is 15. I'm not sure that applies until the entire train has crossed the diamond.

Can you clarify?

Norm


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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:35 PM

Remember that the 'spokesperson' is actually one of the commissioners, the infamous 'PTC should have prevented this' Bella Dinh-Zarr.  I believe she is a political appointee with little technical experience of railroads.

Actually, I thought she was fairly well-briefed for 'that early' in the NTSB response, but there were a couple of likely whoppers in there that the actual boots-on-the-ground NTSB investigators will resolve.

I did think it was highly funny they put her in a jumpsuit; reminded me of Dukakis and his tank ride...

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:40 PM

oltmannd

I don't recall Conrail using speed signs for anything other than temporary restrictions.  Curves et. al., with reduced speed are only in timetable.  I believe NS is the same way.

 

In the course of my travels, I have seen many speed reduction signs. Some, such as those on the BN, use letters to indicate what trains they apply to; others simply show one, greater, number above another, lesser, number, and it is understaood that the greater number applies to passenger trains and the lesser number applies to freights.

I wish I could remember just what I noticed the time I traveled from Kansas City to the Twin Cities on the Rock Island; the signs were different from what I had noticed on other roads.

As I recall, those that I saw on the Southern were diamond-shaped, with curved sides.

Johnny

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:40 PM

7j43k

This engineer was operating in daylight, with everything well lit.  For this to be a situational awareness problem, he would have had to have thought he was somewhere else.  That is, NOT approaching a sharp curve.  So it will be interesting to hear how he figured he was  

It was not daylight.  Will get the actual figures later but it about 20 minutes before civil sunrise plus being very near the winter solitice gloom is prevelant at that high latitude.

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Posted by NorthWest on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:42 PM

PNWRMNM
ATK engineers between Seattle and Portland, and Seattle and Vancouver BC are flatlanders, having nothing more than 1% grades to deal with. It may be that the trainers did not instill sufficient respect for these steep down grades.

Most engineers in the Portland crew base are also qualified on the Brooklyn and Cascade Subdivisions in Oregon, as they occasionally are called to work 11/14 up and down the Hill over Pengra Pass.

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Posted by Deggesty on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:45 PM

Norm48327

Jeff,

Not totally sure what you mean but local to me where CSX crosses CN at Holly, MI the CSX speed limit is 15. I'm not sure that applies until the entire train has crossed the diamond.

Can you clarify?

 

Norm, Jeff may be on the road since he has not responded; I'll answer for him.

The reduced speed applies to the entire train; the engineer does not accelerate until the entire train has passed the restricted section. Jeff may be able to tell you just how he knows when the last car has passed that area.

Johnny

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Posted by 7j43k on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 1:52 PM

blue streak 1

 

 
7j43k

This engineer was operating in daylight, with everything well lit.  For this to be a situational awareness problem, he would have had to have thought he was somewhere else.  That is, NOT approaching a sharp curve.  So it will be interesting to hear how he figured he was  

 

 

It was not daylight.  Will get the actual figures later but it about 20 minutes before civil sunrise plus being very near the winter solitice gloom is prevelant at that high latitude.

 

 

My error.  

I suppose I believed it was daylight because "all" the pictures I saw were daylight.  I then can understand the possibility that the engineer did not and could not see the track ahead.  

I am puzzled that he never applied brakes.  I suppose, if it comes on you quick, a first reaction is a jaw-drop  OHHHHH........

And freezing.  For a short time while that grey goo in the middle of your head comes up with SOME sort of plan.

There may not have been time to recover from that reaction.

 

Still, I do wonder where he THOUGHT he was.  As opposed to coming up on a curve.  He surely knew there was a curve at the bottom of the hill.  It's the kind of important thing (as evidenced) that would stick in one's mind.

 

Ed

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 2:02 PM

This is pure speculation but let us take a look at what results will occurr.   After the 188 accident the FRA required that the signal preceeding Frankford could only display approach 60 as best aspect which was the MAS of Frankford. The next signal could then display whatever the track occupancy was including clear. As well the ACSES had to activated north bound.

It may be now the FRA will require the signal at the curve to display approach and the signal before advanced approach ? Next signal past   Unknown ?

This accident is the third involving a passenger train entering a curve too fast due to proceeding track speed much higher.

 

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 2:16 PM

Deggesty
 
Norm48327

Jeff,

Not totally sure what you mean but local to me where CSX crosses CN at Holly, MI the CSX speed limit is 15. I'm not sure that applies until the entire train has crossed the diamond.

Can you clarify? 

Norm, Jeff may be on the road since he has not responded; I'll answer for him. 

The reduced speed applies to the entire train; the engineer does not accelerate until the entire train has passed the restricted section. Jeff may be able to tell you just how he knows when the last car has passed that area.

'Train Documentation' gives the crew the length of their train.  With the 2-Way EOT's that are used these days there is a distance counter display for the EOT that displays on the engineer's console - When you start over the point of restriction (or the end of restriction marker) reset the distance counter to ZERO and then when it has incremented to exceed your train length - you have cleared the restriction.

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 2:53 PM

BaltACD
To a 51 year railroader, the NTSB spokesperson in this particular incident sounds as if she had little if any knowledge of railroad terminology or operating practices.

Have you considered that the NTSB statements are meant for the media and the layman public to understand, not just railroaders.

If you see PTC, use of electronic devices, fatigue as political agenda you are right. But is it wrong only because it is a bias?
Regards, Volker

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 3:25 PM

VOLKER LANDWEHR
Have you considered that the NTSB statements are meant for the media and the layman public to understand, not just railroaders.

All the more, rather than less, reason to use precise terminology and actual descriptions of rules and operating practice in press statements.  Feeding dumbed-down or 'metaphorized' explanations through the already-dubious 'filter' of newsworkers' understanding is not a wise idea in the first place; when it is done to advance a political narrative, it crosses a line (at least in my opinion). 

I thought much of the coverage I have seen to be remarkably 'technically correct', including the NTSB 'leading' with the explanation of why their event-recorder data were correct even though the Charger seems to have left the rails very early in the 'event'.  I am tempted to add that the engineer in question said he was 'going around a corner' on the radio shortly after the accident, so perhaps the rot with correct terminology and understanding runs beyond political or media sources...

If you see PTC, use of electronic devices, fatigue as political agenda you are right. But is it wrong only because it is a bias?

In my opinion it becomes wrong when it attacks the wrong issues, or fails to address the ones to which it is intended.  When inward-facing cameras cease to be about 'safety' and become about finding convenient violations for discipline, for example, or conversely when 'sleep apnea' becomes a widespread excuse for not addressing much more important reasons for functional fatigue or inattention.  I'm sure we can get a very long laundry list of Government actions in the motor-trucking industry that are biased and wrong by almost any objective standard, particularly when taken in the aggregate as they affect small outfits and O/Os.  When democratic politics becomes personal, it's supposed to be for just reasons -- all too often, it is not, and while there are clearly some social or 'welfare-economic' reasons why individual eggs sometimes get broken, by the time it becomes a systematic bias there is danger far beyond just objective definitions of ethical wrong.

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Posted by rdamon on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 3:30 PM

Just looked at the historic street view from 2013 .. They removed the concrete rail on both sides.

 

 

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Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 3:38 PM

There is some argument that this bridge spanned US 29 before it was enlarged into I-5, which I find plausible.

Looking at the structure from overhead in the post-crash aerial footage, you can see where a curve has been 'cheated' into the track going over the bridge deck, where presumably only tangent track was used 'as built'.  I think every potential mitigation of curve restriction was made in the rebuild engineering, at least on this 'end' of the transition over the highway. 

 

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 4:12 PM

blue streak 1

This is pure speculation but let us take a look at what results will occurr.   After the 188 accident the FRA required that the signal preceeding Frankford could only display approach 60 as best aspect which was the MAS of Frankford. The next signal could then display whatever the track occupancy was including clear. As well the ACSES had to activated north bound.

It may be now the FRA will require the signal at the curve to display approach and the signal before advanced approach ? Next signal past   Unknown ?

This accident is the third involving a passenger train entering a curve too fast due to proceeding track speed much higher.

Streak,

The two mile advanced warning by speed sign is quite sufficient IF the engineer is paying attention.

Messing with the signals here is unlikely to advance any safety issue, particulary in the context of impending PTC.

Somewhere arond 2,000 to 2,500 feet beyond the point of derailment there is a controlled, or absolute, signal that authorizes entry to the BNSF two main tracks at Nisqually. I expect that signal has two indications: stop and approach. On an approach (a hard yellow) the train can pass the signal prepared to stop at the next signal, not exceeding 30 MPH, AND being governed by any lower speed limit that may be associated with the switches themselves.

The next signal back up the hill will be either approach, if Nisqually is stop, or approach medium (flashing yellow) if Nisqually is approach. Aproach means reduce speed to not more than 30 MPH and approach the next signal prepared to stop short of it. Approach medium requires trains moving faster than 40 MPH to reduce to that speed and prepare to pass the next signal at 30 MPH. If I were designing the system this signal would be about one mile from Nisqually, which would place it near the bottom of the grade.

Lets assume that our signal near the bottom of the hill but before the curve is approach medium. (Always liked the other name Advance Approach better as I think it is more descriptive.)

I can go past an approach medium at any speed, then must reduce to 40, and then to 30 at the controlled signal at Nisqually which would be approach. Given that the curve is posted for 30, that is the speed I must not exceed when I go by the fixed signal of the horizontal speed board. Active signals do not control speed in the curve, the speed boards do!

Messing with the active signals here would provide no safety benefit since the curve is posted for 30 MPH, and that is the controlling limit regardless of signal aspect and indication.

I must note that this description is based on how I believe BNSF would design the signals NOT on actual knowledge of what is really out there, so if someone really knows feel free to correct me.

Mac

 

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Posted by Miningman on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 4:21 PM

Overmod--"   I am tempted to add that the engineer in question said he was 'going around a corner' on the radio shortly after the accident, so perhaps the rot with correct terminology and understanding runs beyond political or media sources.."

Oh boy...that's bad, ...."going around a corner?" Was he looking for the steering wheel? 

 

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Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 4:26 PM

It probably felt like he was going around a corner.

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Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 4:30 PM

Euclid
It probably felt like he was going around a corner.

From the position of the lead engine, he missed his braking point, his turn in point and never got near the apex of the corner.

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 4:44 PM

Overmod
All the more, rather than less, reason to use precise terminology and actual descriptions of rules and operating practice in press statements.

If the media or the public are not able to understand the technically correct language what does it help?

Overmod
I thought much of the coverage I have seen to be remarkably 'technically correct', including the NTSB 'leading' with the explanation of why their event-recorder data were correct even though the Charger seems to have left the rails very early in the 'event'.

I agree. That is one of the reason I asked for an explanation.

Overmod
When inward-facing cameras cease to be about 'safety' and become about finding convenient violations for discipline, for example, or conversely when 'sleep apnea' becomes a widespread excuse for not addressing much more important reasons for functional fatigue or inattention.

I think you can't set up the NTSB for the misuse of inward facing cameras. That is something the railroads have to account for.

Sleep apnea is one possible reason for fatigue. It seems easier to adress than changing the rail industry to avoid fatigue caused by long and irregular working hours.
Regards, Volker

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Posted by rdamon on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 4:50 PM

Overmod

There is some argument that this bridge spanned US 29 before it was enlarged into I-5, which I find plausible.

Looking at the structure from overhead in the post-crash aerial footage, you can see where a curve has been 'cheated' into the track going over the bridge deck, where presumably only tangent track was used 'as built'.  I think every potential mitigation of curve restriction was made in the rebuild engineering, at least on this 'end' of the transition over the highway. 

 

 

 

Looked on https://www.historicaerials.com/viewer @ N 47.08113 W 122.67560 and they had topo maps back to 1940. The curve looks the same there. The other bridge was added with I-5 in the late 1960's. You can see the construction in the 1969 aerial photos.

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Posted by Anonymous on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 5:13 PM

Overmod
I think every potential mitigation of curve restriction was made in the rebuild engineering, at least on this 'end' of the transition over the highway.

What I don't understand is why didn't they change the alignment to accommodate larger curve radii? When the numbers I read are correct they invested more than $180 mio. into this project. Two new bridges and a re-aligned would have helped a lot.

But perhaps they didn't find it necessary as it was close to the junction with the BNSF line.
Regards, Volker

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Posted by mudchicken on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 5:21 PM

petitnj

Railroad curves. Railroad curves are so large it is impractical to find the center of a curve and use a line to draw the circle around it. Some of those centers would be in the middle of mountains and streams. So what they do is measure how much the direction of the rail changes in 100 feet. You take a 100' long rope and run it from rail ahead to the same rail (not across the gauge). Now measure the angle between the starting track and the rope. That is the degree of the curve. 

Here is another table

Degree of Curvature                     Curve Radius
           1                                             5000
           2                                             2800
           3                                             1900
           4                                             1500
           5                                             1100
           7                                               800
          10                                              600
          18                                              310
          24                                              240
          36                                              160

Typical locomotives cannot take curves sharper than 20 degrees and some steam engines less than that. 

 

 

Go back and check your figures and fuzzy math - I see at least two major and two minor blunders (the speed table is bogus and you don't know your basic geometry, try a deflection angle of  ∆/2 or I/2, not the central angle from the PC to PT )

8 degree curve = 716.78 Ft radius (chd), mid ordinate of a 62' chord measured on the outer rail = 8 inches

7 degree curve = 819.02 Ft radius (chd), mid ordinate of a 62' chord measured on the outer rail = 7 inches

and a practical handle on crosslevel isn't seen here either.

Some of the other so-called "experts" on spirals on this forum apparently do not live in the real world or are chronic liars looking for attention. PDN, DC and I can lay out railroad curves and turnouts in our sleep. Track charts and right of way maps may state a degree of curve, but the track machinery (without a staked solution) leaves something else (A curve with a slightly larger radius and longer length usually)...they can't put up perfect track geometry, all they do is smooth what's on the ground.GrumpyGrumpyGrumpy

The curvature that was out there was plenty fine for a lightly used branchline and may have even been tightened up a little with out any freight speed penalty to build a shorter, less expensive freeway bridge. (There's another example nearby of this happening on the BNSF doubletrack over I-5)... eventually, the $8-10 million required for curve reduction here may happen in light of this human failure event. Even Wrinnie is getting annoyed with the media's newsworkers and their inept opinion(s) being put on the air as fact. (funny - none of the cable news or broadcast media tried talking to them (Kalmbach/Trains). They would have been more objective than most of the transit and passenger experts quoted.)

 

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
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Posted by Lithonia Operator on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 5:28 PM

Couldn't they have a device that is tripped by every approaching train, every time, which causes a speaker in the cab to say (in a computer voice), loud, "You are approaching a 30 mph curve?" Have several: at 2, 1, .5 and .25 miles out. If this is one of the few slow zones on this route, it would seem to be a relatively cheap solution until PTC comes on line; and then retain it anyway. We already have hotbox detectors with similar (I'm assuming) technology, and my Honda Accord can talk to me; so this doesn't seem like a big ask. BTW, I have no gripes with the NTSB, myself.

Still in training.


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Posted by ROBIN LUETHE on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 5:37 PM

"the corridor is over a century old and some pieces date back decades. The bridge over Interstate 5 in particular was built in 1936 over an older highway and was given new tracks as part of the project.

 

On May 1, 1891, the Tacoma, Olympia & Grays Harbor Railroad announced the completion of a 25-mile railway from Lacey to Lakeview (approximately where South Tacoma station is today), forming a new branch of the Northern Pacific Railway. The main line from Lakeview to Tacoma had been built in 1873 and continued south through what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) towards Tenino. Although a parallel route was built along the coast and around Point Defiance in 1914, this inland route was sparsely used as a freight route by Northern Pacific, and later Burlington Northern to access the JBLM and South Tacoma areas."

All this from Seattle Transit Blog, and they have the citations. The bridge likely first went over US 99, which at the time was the main west coast north/south route. At this bottleneck Fort Lewis and the Nisqualley reservation lies to the east, and Puget Sound to the West. There is no convenient and short bypass. 

 

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Posted by BroadwayLion on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 5:52 PM

VOLKER LANDWEHR
What I don't understand is why didn't they change the alignment to accommodate larger curve radii? When the numbers I read are correct they invested more than $180 mio. into this project. Two new bridges and a re-aligned would have helped a lot.

 

To do that would be much more expensive... Politicians and taxpayers are nortoiously CHEEP.

 

ROAR

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