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AMTRAK Train Wreck

An AMTRAK train in Washington State derailed (3 fatalities and multiple injuries) on the maiden run of a new higher allowed speed route. Was it Titanic syndrome? The Titanic was making a record breaking crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. They maintained high speed through the icebergs. Much speculation of excessive speed (80mph on a 30mph curve) by local news. I will wait for official NTSB investigation results.

All the finest 21st century technology available on the train… 'We don’t need no drivers no more."

I heard in one broadcast that there were 70 passengers, 12 cars. Government run, losing money.

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Quite a few years ago I jogged from my apartment thru a park and then along some RR tracks. Nice long flat area to get excercise. On the tracks I found part of a manual/guide for the tracks, must have fallen from the engineers compartment. It detailed every section of track, some places to the 1/4 mile, with track conditions, maximum speed and other information useful to the engineer. I have to believe that a similar document was available for the Amtrak engineer. Hopefully the investigation will uncover the reason for the lapse in reducing speed. On a pleasant note I took Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Altoona to pick up a car from my son who was in Altoona at the time. Very pleasant trip, went thru a tunnel and the Horseshoe curve. Very inexpensive too. Saved us the aggravation of driving one car up and two cars back.

It may be weeks or even months before the investigations are complete and the cause known. It’s human nature to speculate, and everything we read or hear will be purely and only that until the investigators release something.

Building speed into tracks is very well known engineering. High speed trains have been in service for decades in other countries. Truth is, we may never know the real root cause of the accident. It might actually be overregulation, bad beaurocratic (sp?) decisions, or corrupt subcontractors cutting corners. If it’s the project having been run by ignorant politicians and government accountants, that caused it, we may never find out.

I know the place where that train wrecked. It’s the Mounts Road overpass at I-5 just south of Tacoma. I lived not 10 miles from there until we moved to a small town in Oregon last year. I’ve ridden the Amtrak Cascades.

The latest headline is that the engineer may have been distracted as the train approached the curve in question. There’s also news that the mayor of Lakewood expressed concerns that the recent rerouting of the Amtrak and newer higher speeds were not safe for the conditions and environment. There was recent rerouting and new sections of track in order to shave 10 minutes off of the run from Portland to Tacoma, to the tune of $180 million. 180 million. Ten minutes.

Rail is one of the alternative methods of transportation being used in the Puget Sound area, where a 30 mile commute can take upwards of 100 minutes–each way.

Sounded like there was a trainee on board so that might have been a distraction. Initially though they mentioned something might have been on the track but haven’t heard anymore on that. Antifa pulled their website posting on train sabotage immediately that morning though.

Yeah seems kind of excessive to have that many cars for 70 people. Maybe it’s like church though. You don’t ever want to get full because it discourages people to attend. Somehow though I just think they expected a lot better sales as usual. I believe the mayor’s issue though was with the safety at road and pedestrian crossings with a train going that fast.

Bad deal all around.

By the time the engineer sees a curve like that coming at 80 mph, it’s too late to slow down for it. Maybe he missed the warning signs up ahead of the curve.

That’s actually the problem. The auto-speed system wasn’t due to be installed until next Spring. So, had the autodrive systems been in place, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

It was the first run of the line. Almost no public transit line is full on its inaugural run. The first run of light rail here in the Twin Cities had almost no one on it. Now it carries over 31,000 people per day. It’s kind of premature to criticize as a vacant waste a program that hasn’t even been open for a day yet.

He was talking about grade-level crossings. He believed it was inevitable (and was probably right) that the train would at some point hit a car. He did not predict that an engineer would go more than double the speed limit through curves.


Surely there is a GPS for trains that gives the operator a view of the track ahead… I mean, HOW COULD THERE NOT BE such a simple device in the cab?

Yeah, that’s the Positive Train Control system, which is also capable of stopping the train if the engineer stops controlling it properly. It’s not installed yet.

The system is supposed to be on all trains. Congress mandated that it be done by 2015 but train operators, including the freight guys, dragged their feet and then begged for an extension.

But I don’t think a non-PTC GPS would have been helpful - there are speed limit signs by the side of the track which tell the engineer to slow the train in plenty of time to be doing the right speed around the curve. If they missed that, they’d miss the GPS too.

it was a NEW HIGH speed route and the operator was NOT aware of spots where he had to slow down to 30? speed up, slow down. are there 3 spots on route? or 25?

According to the NTSB they could:
"The NTSB said the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30-mph zone, according to the black box recovered from the accident. "

My experience with a new bus line is relevant. Boston started a new bus line from back bay to the airport, a large bus every 20 minutes. I’ve used the bus and also have watched them go by as I frequent restaurants along the route. Been over a year now.

I have never seen one with more than 6 people onboard, typically 2-4. They could have used a small bus that holds 10 people and have much lower costs. But the fares would not pay the salary of the driver even then.

Re the train wreck… Amazing that we can have almost completely autonomous automobiles, yet we can’t apply that technology to driving a train, which is a much simpler task.

Automotive companies are profitable…train companies aren’t.

I can imagine the person driving such a train on that track becoming somewhat mesmerized looking across about 100 feet to the traffic on I-5 at the same speed for mile after mile. But I would have guessed that multi-million dollar transportation companies would have years of dealing with such issues. Of course we have recently seen 2 U.S. Navy ships severely damaged resulting in several lives lost due to poor management somewhere in a $trillion not for profit organization.

It’s really too soon to speculate as to why the train was speeding. Maybe the engineer was looking at his phone. Maybe exhaust leaked into the cabin and gave them CO poisoning. Maybe some jerk sabotaged the speed limit sign. Could be any of dozens of possibilities.

One thing that keeps coming up was the engineer distracted because there was a trainee on board that he had to pay too much attention to.

After the Penn Central bankruptcy in 1970 the feds took over the rail system, divided cargo (Conrail) from passenger (Amtrak); cargo was so profitable the feds privatized it 1999: it’s the envy of European RR cargo carriers: their countries spend money on passenger RRs instead - shows where their priorities lie.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandated Positive Train Control (something those passenger-loving Europeans already have) by 2015. The cargo carriers balked, which has delayed implementation.

Aren’t trains safer per passenger–mile, than cars? not that we’d want to do anything for passengers.