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Amtrak 501 Derail in Washington State

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, February 13, 2021 11:40 AM

PNWRMNM
The risk should have been obvious to any professional railroader who saw the line in the flesh, even on a hirail.

And that is very true.  Problem was that there appear to have been no professional railroaders associated with this.

I noted at the time how similar this was to the earlier cluster involving Amtrak 188, where inattention to situational awareness coupled with poor infrastructure and signaling deficiencies resulted in high-speed catastrophe.  

Your point about the six repetitions is good (although I think more over a longer time might have been better if possible -- we know it 'wouldn't have been', but still...).  But I think I'd have settled for TWO repetitions with full-attention oversight ... or one under the anticipated dark operating conditions.

I won't read the engineer's transcript again - my ejection fraction is 11 and a-fib too bad to risk the stress because I can't stop the rage at it - but if you need an objective evidentiary reason why little speedboards and an unrecognizable sight picture don't justify a 79mph line butt-ended to a hard 30mph curve... protected by a yellow searchlight aspect!... that alone is really sufficient.

What i find unnerving in the present context is that WSDOT either still doesn't appreciate the professional-discipline part, or assigned a spokesman who has not a clue even that it might be important, and doesn't seem to care other than a sort of CYA and shrugging.

I do understand and accept that there is little real concern when professional railroaders operate a line that goes immediately from 79 to 30 without functional ATS.  But that was manifestly not the situation with 501, and as Joe points out, until the professionalism can be ensured, 188 and 501 are unlikely to be the last of these utterly avoidable horrors.

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Saturday, February 13, 2021 8:53 AM

Allen,

Your description is correct.

I do not agree with your height of stupidity comment however. There is a point where a brake application, perhaps even a split reduction, will bring a train to 30 MPH at the beginning of the curve. Passenger trains have much higher braking ratios than do freight trains, and are much more consistent in their response than freight trains. This is train handling 101.

The height of stupidity is that ATK supervision did not locate that spot, prove it themselves, and put each trainee in the seat for about six repetitions.

I would also point out that this line segment has many practical markers along it, in addition to the advance speed board two miles out which is near the top of the grade. There is a roadway overpass about where I suspect the application needs to be made, and a 24 hour truck weigh station that is always all lit up on the left across the freeway, in the same area. It is not a tunnel of trees that all look alike. The richness of markers makes the failure to brake astounding to me.

The immediate cause of this wreck was a training failure. I think some of the blame also attaches to WSDOT wanting to get the reroute done ASAP, and ATK working against a published date for a timetable change that incorporated the shorter time due to using the 'new' line, plus slowness of the owner to get contractors off the property so training could begin. The politicos and ATK bosses were committed to that start date, period.

ATK management failed to make sure their engineers were properly trained and supervised. ATK had two last chances to prevent this. One was for management to insist on sufficient time to train their guys, that is ignore the timetable change date by a week or two or three. The second failure was to properly train in the short time available, and to have supervision in the cab for first southward run of all engineers. The risk should have been obvious to any professional railroader who saw the line in the flesh, even on a hirail.

Mac 

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Posted by Notch 8 on Friday, February 12, 2021 11:55 PM

blue streak 1

"The line was a secondary line ( NP, GN, UP; actual owner who ?) with a rather low MAS ( anyone know ?)." 

 

According to the December 1, 1959 edition of the Northern Pacific Tacoma Division Special Instructions, the maximum speeds permitted on the Seventeenth Sub (American Lake Line) were 30 mph for Freight and 35 mph for Passenger.  Less than half of todays 79 mph maximum.

It should be noted that in addition to the sharp curve where the derailment took place, this location is also on a significant descending grade.  Something that I don't recall ever hearing reported.  Though difficult to read, this can be seen on page 3 of the Condensed Profile found here:  http://www.nprha.org/NP%20Track%20Charts%20%20Profiles/Tac%2016th%2017th%2018th%2020th%20subs.pdf

On the profile, near the bottom, you'll find the curve located at MP 10.1.  The bottom line of the profile shows that the maximum speed was 30 mph for the entire decent to Nisqually.  Unfortunately, the line, as rebuilt for Amtrak, allowed (still allows?) a speed of 79 mph on 1.5 miles of descending grade right up to the infamous 30 mph curve, most of which is on (if I'm reading the profile correctly) a 1.26 percent descending grade.  To permit 79 mph on a steep, descending grade immediately in advance of a 30 mph curve was (and may still be) the height of stupidity.

Allan
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Posted by PNWRMNM on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 4:52 PM

rdamon

I believe the theory was that the line was relocated during the I-5 construction to increase the angle that the bridge crossed the road.  However it looks like it looks like it was that way with US-99 as far back as circa 1940 

 

The point I am trying to make is that the NP track charts do no indicate a line change in this area except a bit at Nisqually to have the original through branch line of 1891 make a reasonable connection to the 1914 built double track main line.

There is no evidence to support the theory of relocation of any part of the S curve.

Mac

Mac

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Posted by rdamon on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 12:32 PM

I believe the theory was that the line was relocated during the I-5 construction to increase the angle that the bridge crossed the road.  However it looks like it looks like it was that way with US-99 as far back as circa 1940 

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 8:56 AM

blue streak 1
If you zoom on the attached 194 topo map you will see that the RR appears to have curved around the accident location.  It curves around with what appears to be US-99 ?  So did US 99 become I-5 at that location.?I    Have not located an earlier topo map.

Streak,

I do not understand what you are trying to say with 'the railroad curved around the location'. My description would be that the railroad was built with two curves to make an S shape crossing of a small valley.

I am 99.9% sure that one side of current I-5 is on the former route of US 99 in the area where the derailment occurred. I have driven I-5 here many times and have noticed very different designs of the bridges that carry the two track main line over the freeway.

The highway is irrelevant to the railroad location.

Mac

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 1:15 AM

PNWRMNM

 

Original owner was NP. Basic line was built in 1891 with about .5 miles at Nisqually (Jct with 1914 double track main line) realigned in 1914 to make a junction at Nisqually. There is no evidence on the track chart of a realignment for a highway ever.

Mac McCulloch

 

Mac.  I spoke wrong.  However if you zoom on the attached 194 topo map you will see that the RR appears to have curved around the accident location.  It curves around with what appears to be US-99 ?  So did US 99 become I-5 at that location.?I    Have not located an earlier topo map.
 
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Posted by 243129 on Monday, February 1, 2021 2:54 PM

charlie hebdo

Probably yes. And the speed limits preceding the sharp curve should have been lower farther away.

 

I don't dispute your observation but a properly trained operator must/would know where he is at all times.

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Monday, February 1, 2021 2:13 PM

Probably yes. And the speed limits preceding the sharp curve should have been lower farther away.

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Posted by 243129 on Monday, February 1, 2021 10:30 AM

After all the testimony, all the investigations, interviews etc. what stands out glaringly is Amtrak's ineptitude. Amtrak is the cause of this and other human error tragedies. The participants/'culprits' are victims, victims of Amtrak's arrogance. What we have here is the unknowing being hired by the unknowing, instructed by the unknowing, supervised by the unknowing and turned loose on the unknowing, the general public.

Read RFE Beatson's interview with the NTSB in which he states:" What happened there, as far as I understand, they -- initially, no one was qualified as you probably understand. Right.  . So the two agencies involved in the territory concerned, one  was Sound Transit and one was Tacoma Rail. Sound Transit goes to  Lakewood, and Tacoma Rail goes from Lakewood to Nisqually. And as  I understand it, you're in the testing runs, which were done --  well, the more recent testing runs, which were done, I believe, in  early November. That was when Chris Bradasich was up there with  Tacoma Rail and Lakewood -- sorry -- Tacoma Rail and Sounder  pilots, and he himself got qualified through them. I wasn't  involved in any of that.  And then, subsequently, with Chris being qualified, he then became the lead qualifier for us. And then, if you like, it was  handed down. Once Josh got qualified, he could qualify people. Once I got qualified, I could qualify people."

Does this not offer proof that Amtrak's hiring, vetting, training and supervisory procedures are dangerous and the major contributory to the Dupont/Port Defiance tragedy?

"All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience". This was something Amtrak was offered early on and chose not to accept.

 

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Sunday, January 31, 2021 10:51 PM

blue streak 1
Something to remember.  The curve and bridge was not always there.   The line was rather straight before I-5 was built.  The line was a secondary line ( NP, GN, UP; actual owner who ?) with a rather low MAS ( anyone know ?).   When WA DOT planned for the crossing it decided to make the curved crossing to shorten the bridge length.  I guess no one anticipated the future use of the route to 79 MPH? It is too bad the DOT could not get highway funds to straighten the route back to its original alignment.  Tried to find before and after topo maps but had no luck.

Streak,

NP track charts do not support your second sentence. Where did you get that idea from?

Original owner was NP. Basic line was built in 1891 with about .5 miles at Nisqually (Jct with 1914 double track main line) realigned in 1914 to make a junction at Nisqually. There is no evidence on the track chart of a realignment for a highway ever.

Mac McCulloch

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Sunday, January 31, 2021 10:24 PM

Something to remember.  The curve and bridge was not always there.   The line was rather straight before I-5 was built.  The line was a secondary line ( NP, GN, UP; actual owner who ?) with a rather low MAS ( anyone know ?).   When WA DOT planned for the crossing it decided to make the curved crossing to shorten the bridge length.  I guess no one anticipated the future use of the route to 79 MPH?

It is too bad the DOT could not get highway funds to straighten the route back to its original alignment.  Tried to find before and after topo maps but had no luck.

Have to wonder if the original agreement between owner RR and WASH DOT had a provision that the route would be straightened if the owner RR ever needed to  have higher speed trains on the Route.  If so wouldn't such an agreement have survived the sale to WASH DOT ?

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Posted by 243129 on Sunday, January 31, 2021 2:47 PM

zugmann

I've had PTC give me penalties for no reason.  System just freaked out going over a switch for some reason.  Isn't always the hogger.  Heck, I've had it dump me on a clear signal in the middle of nowhere.  

 

 

Yes those are annoying ocurrences but being familiar with the territory these penalties were happening at speed restrictions.

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Posted by 243129 on Sunday, January 31, 2021 2:43 PM

charlie hebdo

In my bystander's opinion,  if an intermediate lower speed zone were in place an appropriate distance prior to the 35 mph curve,  the accident could have been prevented, regardless of poor vetting and training. 

 

Yes that is an added 'assistance' but does not preclude proper training and vetting.

Some thing else to consider. All of these safety and backup features do add to the running time. Amtrak's Metroliners of 1969 had faster or equal running times to the Acela of 2020. I remember being the fireman (1963) on the Merchants Limited eastbound from Grand Central Terminal and the due time by New Rochelle Junction was 5:27P.M. and 30 seconds!!!!  So much for the 'high speed trains' of the future eh?

 

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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, January 31, 2021 2:19 PM

I've had PTC give me penalties for no reason.  System just freaked out going over a switch for some reason.  Isn't always the hogger.  Heck, I've had it dump me on a clear signal in the middle of nowhere.  

 

  

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of

my employer, any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by 243129 on Sunday, January 31, 2021 2:13 PM

zugmann
Isn't distressting to me

What I found distressing was that the amount of penalty applications indicated poor familiarity with the territory. Automation addiction is a real factor in today's operations. Electronic devices can and will fail, wayside signage can be vandalized and that folks is the RX for disaster. From my experience and from recent conversations with former co-workers there are folks out there still who should not be operating trains. It is my fervent hope that Amtrak's 'luck' continues otherwise we are in for more human error tradgedies.

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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, January 31, 2021 1:52 PM

243129
Time and again I have traveled on my former division and 'felt' PTC operating the train more often than not. I find that distressing.

I've had to make a few small adjustments to how I run trains with PTC active.  Isn't distressting to me  - just a neccasary action (but yeah, you can't run as smooth as before).  PTC is designed to be overly cautious - a slop factor built in,if you will. 

  

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Posted by 243129 on Sunday, January 31, 2021 1:16 PM

It is a sad state of affairs when we have to install/construct 'features' to operate the train instead of installing/constructing them as an assistance to the operator. Time and again I have traveled on my former division and 'felt' PTC operating the train more often than not. I find that distressing.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, January 31, 2021 12:22 PM

True.  Having it on at that one point by service introduction would likely have prevented the accident.

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Posted by zugmann on Saturday, January 30, 2021 10:54 PM

Overmod
That would be even more enhanced if "proper" PTC had been installed in conjunction with the color lights, capable of dropping the distant aspect to red on unreduced overspeed and initiating penalty braking early enough to keep any part of the train off the curve.  

PTC enforces speed limits.  You don't have to intermingle signal stuff with it.   

  

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, January 30, 2021 10:51 PM

charlie hebdo
In my bystander's opinion,  if an intermediate lower speed zone were in place an appropriate distance prior to the 35 mph curve,  the accident could have been prevented, regardless of poor vetting and training. 

You're probably right.  But the issue would then become whether the poor sap would miss the distant and home markers for the lower-speed zone too -- they being part of the same long descending grade marked only by supposedly-reflective speedboards placed out of direct line of sight.

The most logical way to mark the slowdown would probably be with a permanent restricting aspect of some kind -- perhaps the logical one being a fixed yellow searchlight or aspect.  All the intermediate-zone does is put that aspect one block further up the long downgrade... and while it is useful, it's really not that much more useful than what I recommended, which was a permanent yellow aspect warning 'distant' ahead of the fixed curve.

I do continue to be convinced that fixed color-light wayside signals instead of little reflective mystery boards would have prevented this accident had they been used properly.  That would be even more enhanced if "proper" PTC had been installed in conjunction with the color lights, capable of dropping the distant aspect to red on unreduced overspeed and initiating penalty braking early enough to keep any part of the train off the curve.  This would still be the 'correct' point of action for an intermediate-speed warning unless speed-controlling train control were provided.  The advantage there would be -- perhaps -- that when the crew felt a targeted reduction they might 'remember' where they were on the route, and fall to controlling the movement appropriately.  

But in amidst all the other wretchedness, they couldn't even be bothered to turn on PTC at that one point, where it was most essential...

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, January 30, 2021 10:31 PM

In my bystander's opinion,  if an intermediate lower speed zone were in place an appropriate distance prior to the 35 mph curve,  the accident could have been prevented, regardless of poor vetting and training. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, January 30, 2021 6:42 PM

There is more than enough blame to go around for every entity that was involved.  WSDOT did not make sufficient track time available to Amtrak for qualifications as they were reserving a large block of the day for track work that was still taking place at the time the qualifications were taking place.  Additional WSDOT set a hard date for start of service without regard to the qualification process.  Amtrak did not dispute any of the WSDOT timeline.  Amtrak then provided a wish and grin 'training experience' for multiple people per trip.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, January 30, 2021 5:41 PM

Electroliner 1935
What does this say about the supervisors and managers that directed the "Training" and "Qualifying"?

That almost goes beyond saying -- which is fortunate, because even on a family-friendly forum it would be difficult to refrain from using appropriate words.

The thing I found particularly alarming was that Nosferatu Jr. did not seem as if he had even understood there was a lesson to be learned.  HAVE the crews that will operate the 'renewed' service actually had revised and better training, and full qualification?  I'd be tempted to say it's more of the same-old, now depending on PTC to actually control the required deceleration at the end.  And that is a glaring danger should PTC 'glitch' in any number of ways...

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Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Saturday, January 30, 2021 4:33 PM

Lithonia Operator
Overmod 
BaltACD
If you have a TRULY QUALIFIED engineer even signs are not necessary.  However, I have my doubts how may TRULY QUALIFIED engineers even exist anymore.  A TRULY QUALIFIED engineer knows his territory like a blind man knows his living space and everything that is in it. 

I thought I was over being incensed by that situation, but I come to find I am not. 

Review the data, including that in the engineer's transcript, regarding the time and nature of the 'training' given by Amtrak and WSDOT.  Pay careful attention to the number of trips run under low-light conditions.

FULLY QUALIFIED by any meaningful railroader's definition does not come anywhere remotely near the slackness and failure of that operation.  I would say it's a wonder they could ever run a train safely down that stretch, except... oh wait, they didn't. 

I couldn't agree more. What a debacle. What a disgrace.

What does this say about the supervisors and managers that directed the "Training" and "Qualifying"? I think they are a significant if not PRIMARY cause of this accident. THEY are directly responsible for assuring that the crew is qualified and they FAILED to see that the crew was provided with appropriate skills. 

 

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Posted by 243129 on Thursday, January 28, 2021 10:14 AM

Overmod

 

 
PNWRMNM
Wonder how they did it, steam engines and all.

 

"Hmmmm..." again.

 

Or, to fill in, 'vetting, training, supervision' ... and, I'll bet, route qualification for much longer, and in much greater detail, than Amtrak and WSDOT 'provided'.

 

SmileYes 

Sadly Amtrak still eschews input or oversight from veterans of the operating department and chooses instead to continue the hit and miss trial and error tactics it has employed since inception.

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Posted by Overmod on Thursday, January 28, 2021 9:29 AM

PNWRMNM
Wonder how they did it, steam engines and all.

"Hmmmm..." again.

Or, to fill in, 'vetting, training, supervision' ... and, I'll bet, route qualification for much longer, and in much greater detail, than Amtrak and WSDOT 'provided'.

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Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, January 28, 2021 9:09 AM

PNWRMNM
 
Overmod

FULLY QUALIFIED by any meaningful railroader's definition does not come anywhere remotely near the slackness and failure of that operation.  I would say it's a wonder they could ever run a train safely down that stretch, except... oh wait, they didn't. 

ATK did not but Northern Pacific did for decades. Wonder how they did it, steam engines and all.

Mac McCulloch

Before WSDOT had the line upgraded to the 79 MPH level of track maintenance - the former carriers never approached that curve at 79 MPH.

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Posted by PNWRMNM on Thursday, January 28, 2021 8:44 AM

Overmod

FULLY QUALIFIED by any meaningful railroader's definition does not come anywhere remotely near the slackness and failure of that operation.  I would say it's a wonder they could ever run a train safely down that stretch, except... oh wait, they didn't.

ATK did not but Northern Pacific did for decades. Wonder how they did it, steam engines and all.

Mac McCulloch

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Posted by 243129 on Thursday, January 28, 2021 8:29 AM

Overmod

Joe -- welcome back!

 

Thank you Mr. E. and charlie hebdo.Yes I hope everyone here is healthy.

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