Destination: Freedom picks up a Washington Post report on Amtrak 89's collision with a backhoe where the headline tells you all.  "Were Rules Violated?"


Everything else is just commentary.
[I]n the 212 years since the steam locomotive was invented, railroads have established rules to keep trains from running down their own maintenance workers. Those rules have been cemented with federal regulation and law.
The presence of positive train control does not relieve the work crew of the obligation to request track and time or the dispatcher of the obligation to grant it or delay it.  The Federal Railroad Administration is clear on this point.
“The train dispatcher or control operator shall not permit the movement of trains or other on-track equipment onto the working limits . . . until the roadway worker . . . has reported clear of the track,” FRA Regulation 214.323 says.

Work crews also are permitted to shut off the electrical current running through the rail, an action “that precludes passage of trains or engines” into the work zone.

That rule stipulates that no one is permitted to allow trains back into the work area “until receiving permission to do so from the roadway worker who established the working limits.”
The second paragraph is ambiguous. In electrified zones, the work crew can (for some projects, must) deenergize the catenary or third rail. There might be ways to locally shut down the signals, although in today's Centralized Traffic Control territory, the issuance of a track permit prevents the dispatcher from clearing a route on a track so protected.  My 1986 edition of the General Code of Operating Rules covers what the dispatcher and work crews must do.  Rule 351 is a little long to quote in full, but "Blocking or marking devices must not be removed until limits have been cleared or released to the control operator."  That's more specific than the federal "receiving permission to do so."

None of which does any good at all if an equipment operator moves a backhoe onto a track that is not properly protected.  And the fanciest technology does you no good if the maintenance foreman and the dispatcher do not comply with whatever analogue to Rule 351 governs train movements through Chester.
“If it all gets done right, this thing can never happen,” said Gus Ubaldi, an airport and railroad engineering expert with Robson Forensic, a legal consulting firm. “The problem with technology is that sometimes people will rely on it (solely). … Do you want to put all your faith in a piece of technology?”
The Crusty Old Roadmaster would not put it any differently.

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