15.9.08

ENGINEER DISTRACTED? The fatal collision between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train on the Coast Line is the consequence of what the British call "signal passed at danger" and Destination Freedom shares my surprise at the severity of the crash.
The September 12 accident was made far worse because the commuter rail train’s engine was forced backward into the lead passenger car, nearly destroying it and the locomotive as well. That is unusual for American train wrecks, where high buffing standards (600,000 psi) are required for passenger rail cars. Normally, in a crash, most of the cars that derail will form a zig zag pattern on the ground.
The aftermath of the crash reveals organizational sloppiness at Metrolink.

Monday, the Metrolink spokeswoman who announced Saturday that the engineer's mistake caused the crash resigned. She said the railroad's board called her announcement "premature," even though NTSB officials later backed it up.

Metrolink did not return phone messages on the resignation.

The story about the engineer sending text-messages to some young train enthusiasts also will not go away.
Federal officials investigating a commuter rail collision that killed 25 people said they want to review cell phone records to determine if an engineer blamed for running a stop signal before the crash may have been text messaging at the time.
That story should be easier to confirm or rebut than the assertion, 21 years ago, that the Conrail crew who let a light engine get in front of a Northeast Corridor train at the Gunpowder River interlocking were distracted by a football game. Divers went into the river looking for a battery-powered television but found none.

There is also evidence either of problems with the railroad's communications, or with the crew's assiduousness at calling signals.

[Kitty] Higgins [of the National Transportation Safety Board] said audio recordings from the commuter train indicate a period of silence as it passed the last two signals before the fiery wreck, a time when the engineer and the conductor should have been performing verbal safety checks.

She cautioned, however, that the train may have entered a dead zone where the recording was interrupted.

Higgins said the NTSB would measure the distance between the signals along the track on Monday. Investigators also want to interview the conductor, who was injured, about the recording, she said.

"He'll be able to tell us whether he recalls the engineer calling out and him confirming those signals," Higgins said.

The possibility of mandatory positive train control in order to further ensure against train crews missing signals is out there.
Higgins said she believed the crash could have been prevented with technology that stops a train on the track when a signal is disobeyed. The technology was not in place where the collision occurred.
An NBC News segment on the crash mentioned positive train control, which, not surprisingly, protects the Acela Expresses. The segment also noted Sarah Palin's railroad has it.

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