May
13
2015

The Amtrak crash was because of human error.

I say this as the son and grandson of good railroad men. If you have been trying to argue that this crash was do to some mythical infrastructure negligence by the GOP, then sit down and shut up, fool. The speed limits are there for a reason:

An Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night had been going at least 100 mph before the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board announced on Wednesday– more than twice the legal speed limit.

Sources familiar with the investigation of the crash told The Wall Street Journal that the train hit a sharp curve and failed to slow down. As NBC News reported, the speed limit on the curve itself was 50 mph, while the limit on the track preceding the curve was 70 mph — still far below the train’s apparent speed.

This is a law-of-physics issue – and possibly a labor issue; I don’t know why the engineer was driving too damned fast, but I think that a lot of people would like to find out – not an ostensibly political one.  You have to be damned careful around trains.  The same thing that makes them efficient cargo transports also makes them harder to start and stop. They’re big and they’re massive.  This is simply the way of things.

Yes, I understand. High speed rail is a part of a rather specific religious catechism. So noted. And save it for church.

21 Comments

  • acat says:

    Even Chinese high speed rail has to slow down for the turns …
    .
    Mew

  • BigGator5 says:

    My great-grandfather was conductor in Canada. I think it is time that we end Amtrak Welfare.

    • acat says:

      You included an extra word. It is time that we end Amtrak.
      .
      Mew

      • Luke says:

        There is a motion on the floor.
        All in favor?
        .
        Aye.

      • BigGator5 says:

        Well, ending their welfare will end Amtrak. We are talking about the same thing I guess. Trains belong in a museum, in my honest opinion.

        • UtahMan says:

          Tell that to the guys out in the Powder River Basin. The coal is moving in trains just fine…

          Sorry, the whole “museum” argument sets me off.

          • acat says:

            Heh. Chicagoland has more grade-level rail crossings than anywhere else in the country .. the shipping containers and new cars and scrap metal and ag product are *also* moving on trains just fine.
            .
            I’d also stack Suburban-Chicago’s light rail (literally: re-purposed or dual-purposed freight-rail) against anyone elses’ system.
            .
            That said .. U.S. passenger rail service *just plain sucks*, and has since Amtrak tried to rescue an industry that should have been allowed to figure it out on their own.
            .
            Mew

        • acat says:

          I like trains *in theory* .. and I have no particular problem with urban mass-transit light-rail systems .. but Amtrak is hellish, in part because it’s stuck in an impossible situation.
          .
          They can’t raise prices, they can’t cut services, they can’t get out of stasis, and so long as they exist it’s illegal for others (Union Pacific, forex) to offer competing services.
          .
          So .. end Amtrak and I’ll decide whether I’m willing to pay 4x airline rates for slower (but *well appointed* (as in good food and wifi and comfortable *modern* seats)) rail service.
          .
          Mew

          • Subotai Bahadur says:

            Depends on where you are going. I am fortunate enough to live at a point where two Amtrak lines are within driving distance. One is an hour away, one is an hour and a half. For most flights, you have to go to Denver International Airport which is two hours and is one of Dante’s Circles.

            Cost for trips to Kansas City, Chicago, San Francisco, or Seattle [which puts me in range of both British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula] are cheaper than airfare, especially with family deals. Yeah, it takes a day, but if I drive it takes at least that long. I can carry as much baggage as I want [Amtrak is really loose with your baggage allowance, regardless of what the brochures say], and reservations are no problem. And there is no groping by TSA goons and much better amenities.

            That said, it could be vastly improved if they could somehow create 2 north-south lines west of the Mississippi River so that one could transfer between east-west routes without having to go to either Chicago or Los Angeles to get north or south.

            Most of the money for Amtrak is spent on the NE corridor, when the need for long distance transportation is in the midwest and west.

        • JustDave says:

          Passenger trains, perhaps (probably), belong in a museum. Freight trains, on the other hand, seem to be doing quite well.

          • acat says:

            That .. depends on what you mean by passenger rail. (and certainly the current Amtrak fleet of engines and cars belong in museums .. or scrapyards..)

            .
            Urban light rail works well enough, in dense enough environments. (or, in Portland, where the locals are willing to subsidize it because greenies)
            .
            Long distance passenger rail could also be done for profit .. but not while Amtrak makes competing with Amtrak illegal.
            .
            That means Union Pacific or the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe won’t run their own passenger service along any of “their” long east/west runs .. even though they’d be hard pressed to provide the same level of incompetent service or antiquated equipment Amtrak operates.
            .
            Mew

        • sicsemperstolidissimum says:

          Passenger rail seems to work okay for the Japanese.
          .
          If you buy that this is applicable to America, perhaps I can interest you in Malaysia’s drug laws?

  • UtahMan says:

    Moe, you’ve mentioned your rail lineage before. If it’s not too personal, which railroad did your grandfather and dad work for?

    Now that I’ve got that out, my inner railroad geek will calm down.

    • Moe_Lane says:

      I *believe* that Grandpa was on the Boston and Albany, and that Dad was there until he started working for the Staten Island Rapid Transit Operating Authority somewhere between the birth of Sister #3 and myself. There was some work on the Baltimore and Ohio in there, too. I should ask my mom.

      • Moe_Lane says:

        But my dad’s heart was always with Chessie Cat.

        • UtahMan says:

          Thanks Moe. My grandfather worked for a year at the Union Pacific roundhouse in Salt Lake City – and got a lifetime of stories out of it. Some of which may even have been true.
          Still great stories.

  • sicsemperstolidissimum says:

    Rudyard Kipling people.
    .
    If you make a slip in handling us, you die.
    .
    State Boards of Licensure for Professional Engineering regulate a different type of Engineer from the ones operating the train, but one perhaps as important for safety. These engineers are required to sign off on the technical details of equipment like this. They well understand the risk that their decisions will kill people. If it isn’t human error, it was fraud or incompetence. Budget can fix training issues, but it cannot fix management issues that continue operations while training is not adequate to ensure safety.

  • Mikey NTH says:

    The same principles apply to freighters and tugs and barges. I do patrols on the Detroit River and there are channels that the commercial traffic must be in.

    You would not believe the number of people who will not give way to the commercial traffic, traffic that must be where it is because those vessels do not have anywhere else to go. Once a freighter is moving it cannot stop fast, especially if downbound with the current (I am not certain of the exact speed, but the river current is swift). You see a freighter gt out of the way. We once pulled a disabled pleasure boat out of the way of a downbound freighter and it was a near-run thing, and to me it was terrifying. The rivets in the hull of a Great Lakes ore carrier are very big when you are thirty feet away and there are a lot of them.

    To end: stay away from very large moving things.

  • Mikey NTH says:

    The freighter was ‘Algoma Montrealais’.

    http://www.boatnerd.com/pictures/fleet/montreal.htm

  • Catseyes says:

    Another fine example of a Union Member who thinks the laws don’t apply to him because he’s in a Union. Wish I could say I was joking.

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