Karl`s PC Help Forums

Another Amtrak train accident, this time a collision
scholar - 5-2-2018 at 03:24

Associated Press was reporting 2 dead, 110 or more injured.

The passenger train, subsidized by the U.S. government, crashed into a freight train on the same track (which was not the main track, which Amtrak was supposed to be using). Amtrak says the freight train company was responsible for the switches, and that a switch in the wrong position diverted their train onto the occupied track.:(

JackInCT - 5-2-2018 at 05:01

More human error.

We have the tech to build cars that are almost to the point of being autonomous, but we can't seem to get tech to RRs which have NO OPTION but to travel on 'predetermined location' track and have them stay out of each other's way.

The embedded pix for non-RR buffs show a very common track layout (been in existence forever); keeping trains coming in opposite directions from colliding has to be letter perfect re command and control & stop/go signals. AND it works (for the most part). Ditto re derailments occurring at these locations-doesn't seem possible that they wouldn't, but they don't.

By the way, there ain't no humans at these crossings using their eyeballs to correct "errors" [in the old days there were many that had manned towers at the sites-gone the way of the dinosaur--manually operated levers inside some that controlled switches to change tracks--some had only one operator--the 3rd shift must have been just a wonderful work experience]

I'm not in a position to accurately report on train speed coming into these types of crossings.

LSemmens - 5-2-2018 at 08:24

As a job the train driver could be one of the most critical for safety, and boring at the same time. SBS actually showed a special on the Ghan railway recently. basically they showed it all day and followed the train on its trip from Adelaide to Darwin, a trip of some 3000Km. Every now and then they'd show what was happening in the driver's cabin. Basically, all he had to do was sit there and sound the horn at appropriate intervals.

With the advent of GPS tracking and Automation, you'd think that rail travel would have to be as safe as flying. Given the fact that the route is "predicatable" the only real variable is animals and idiots driving vehicles into the path of said train.

JackInCT - 5-2-2018 at 12:34

This image is certainly not the largest, or most complex pix of the end of the line track terminus. Typically this amount of end of line maze of tracks is found at RR commuting sites which see large numbers of inbound and outbound trains daily for several hours in the morning and afternoon commutes.

These end of the line operations cover many acres.

For the most part they operate perfectly with human and mechanical inputs. And of course, the humans involved in the track control CANNOT SEE ANY OF THIS.

And yes the track speed is far less than mainline operations, but they are not going at a snail pace either.

The pix is a train station in the UK, but it's typical of end of the line large urban center track layouts across the globe.

JackInCT - 5-2-2018 at 12:50

FYI: Addition to my previous post: there is no such thing as a standard, one size fits all, RR dispatch center. But this pix shows the reality of a typical 'command and control' operation.

This pix however doesn't do justice to visually portraying the volume of inbound/outbound trains at a major urban passenger terminus.

LSemmens - 6-2-2018 at 10:42

Automation and GPS Navigation should make this all safer.

JackInCT - 6-2-2018 at 11:54

Originally posted by LSemmens
Automation and GPS Navigation should make this all safer.

There are experienced unemployed folks in Hawaii who are available to deploy the tech that you're recommending!

JackInCT - 7-2-2018 at 02:08

Train Dispatcher 2 Freeware Version


Train Dispatchers are the air traffic controllers of the railroads. They control the movement of trains over large track territories. This game simulates the gargantuan routing tasks a real-life dispatcher faces daily. The problem is that trains must share a limited number of tracks. In some cases, a single track must be shared by trains going in opposite directions. It is the job of the dispatcher to control the movement of trains over this limited resource, which can create one bottleneck after another.

Me Here: the embedded image shows what you have to work with; I haven't played this in over 20+ years (a previous ver).

NOT so easy to get it right simulation and remembering the "rules" of traffic control.

This URL lists several similar programs:

Google Play has similar games with "Train Dispatcher" as the applicable search words

scholar - 7-2-2018 at 02:26

I have heard on broadcast news that the two people who died were the ones in control of the train. They literally had seconds from the time they knew of the wrong-track problem to the time of the head-to-head collision.

A news article said that the indicators of the switch positions was "down for maintenance." You would think that in such a case there would be someone checking the position in advance, and then locking the verified position in some way.

A news broadcast said this was the third Amtrak accident in two months. The biggest disaster was discussed in one of our threads. The second one, on January 31, carried Republican Congressmen to a legislative retreat, among other passengers. The train hit a truck, whose driver was trying to cross at a closed crossing.

None of these can be inspiring confidence in the safety of passenger travel on trains which are subsidized by the U.S. government.

LSemmens - 7-2-2018 at 09:39

Train on train collisions should be "easy" to mitigate, External influences, no so. If the train is on a particular section of track, software should preclude any other train occupying the same section, UNLESS, there is a good reason, AND a human is aware of the fact and can MANUALLY override such safety protocols AND ONLY permitting both trains that share a section to travel at a safe speed UNTIL, either the trains move to separate sections, or they join up and become ONE train. The logic diagram on this should be fairly simple.

JackInCT - 7-2-2018 at 12:34

Originally posted by LSemmens
..... The logic diagram on this should be fairly simple.

I would suggest that you do a search on "railroad dark territory"; there are quite a few hits. After a read ignore the typical comments in them that it exists mostly on "lightly" used track sections, and ask yourself at least these questions, (1) why is there any track AT ALL in dark territory, (2) what is the frequency of occurrence when any track goes dark due to equipment failure, (3) how long does it take to repair the failures, & (4) how often does it happen that flood, derailments, etc., forces RRs to reroute manifests onto dark territory track?

JackInCT - 7-2-2018 at 14:05

This post is in the nature of an addendum to my previous post re RRs and how mainentence in the real world gets done/not done.

I am NOT suggesting that this image is typical, but I am saying that there are unique issues to RRing that never seem to be considered.

This pix was taken in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy back in 2012. A very large geographical area was impacted.

The very large number of workers depicts a reality that management did NOT know, and could have no way of knowing, how many downed trees there were on the line, NOR how large the trees that were down were, i. e., for whatever reason there is no crane on this train; so all tree removal had to be done via chain saw and manually lifted out of the way--ONE BY ONE of the stop & go variety.

The issue of dark territory and safety is really similar. Track maintenance facilities, and the equipment to do repairs can be at great distances from trouble spots. Plus there is the issue of spare [replacement] parts--repairs are not always done by work trains, but by trucks that have been adapted to ride the rails--how many replacement parts are there at hand, how many have to be ordered, how many parts are even made any longer, etc., etc., etc.,.

There is a great deal of down time for work crews simply to arrive, travel time wise, on the scene from their home base. And if the parts they have on hand are insufficient for the repair... Even the replace the entire unit method if something is wrong, i. e., carry a new unit, can be problematic...it may turn out that the problem was not what was initially diagnosed.

RRs can't simply call up, as an example, a local electrician to fix an electrical problem; the local electrician wouldn't necessarily have any idea/experience how to even diagnosis the problem.

LSemmens - 8-2-2018 at 10:00

Which is why I suggested "External influences" Trains cannot mitigate against idiots parking on the track or animals that have no idea what is about to send them on a journey to the afterlife or trees, etc. Maintenance etc is always going to be an issue, however, on major routes, this should not be a factor at all. On those it should be a priority.

John_Little - 8-2-2018 at 10:13

Seems to be a lot of people standing around with their hands in their pockets.

JackInCT - 8-2-2018 at 15:34

Originally posted by John_Little
Seems to be a lot of people standing around with their hands in their pockets.

Or with all that manpower why didn't they just, in unison [galley ship oar crew style] simply pick it up and put it on the platform.

Those colored hard hats indicate various levels of authority/responsibility job description wise, with the white ones being supervisors/managers.

This is a commuter RR track and the longer the track is out of service, commuters, probably in the thousands have to find alternative ways to get to work, and now left with car travel as the only alternative, and to compound the problem, on roads that themselves have all kinds of debris waiting to be removed.

To be fair, it was probably a reality that a good many folk just took an unplanned vacation since commuting (even some parts of the underground subways system) was a mess.

LSemmens - 8-2-2018 at 23:32

I can, to a point, understand the "standing around" bit. Back in the day when Light pipes (optic fibre) were fairly new we had a mechanical cable locator chew one up about 80km out of town. So we had a technician (me) who was to test the repair as it was made, An excavator operator who was to dig in the repaired line, A team of linesmen who were responsible for locating the problem (in this case, pretty obvious) and excavating by hand, if necessary (usually the last few feet) another couple of people who were responsible for making the joint (also specially trained for the job). All up the job took a couple of days and, most of the time was spent just standing around waiting for something to happen. All up we all had to just just stand around and wait for most of that time whilst the appropriate person did his bit.

In the aforementioned piccie, I'd suggest that many of those who were standing around were there because of other issues that their expertise may be needed on.

Katzy - 9-2-2018 at 11:02

Seems rather odd... "One train in one section at any time" is a golden rule, here, except when a recovery's being done. If there's a train in section, the signals all go to danger and it takes a lot of overriding stuff, to get another train in that section. Speed is limited to 5mph, or less, too.

Someone at Amtrak needs a kick up the chuffer.

JackInCT - 9-2-2018 at 20:19

Originally posted by John_Little
Seems to be a lot of people standing around with their hands in their pockets.

Notice that the man with the chain saw is the only one with an orange hard hat in that entire group.

Also note, and admittedly it is hard to tell, he is NOT wearing safety glasses.

At the level of a complete guess, I would imagine that any worker authorized to use a chain saw has to undergo both classroom instruction, as well as field work before his instructor (YES, there is in all likelihood a chain saw instructor) will "certify" him as "licensed" to operate one--imagine the training program for operating heavy equipment, if you will.

Can anyone tell from this post that during my job days I worked for, unfortunately, more than one large bureaucracy. Never taking risks, as well as NEVER volunteering, is every employee's stock in trade. Ditto re "interpreting" written agency policy that must have been drawn up by a kindergartener in the most ultraconservative manner as can be done.

John_Little - 9-2-2018 at 21:39

I just realised that was London Bridge! That's a local station for us! Actually they have spent months and months changing all that and tidying up the rails and rebuilding the station! The sign is in the top right corner

LSemmens - 10-2-2018 at 00:30

When I was in tree lopping we used cranes for particularly difficult trees. Tree loppers were the only ones permitted to "ride the hook" as it was safer than free climbing. The stupid thing about it was that all our arborists had to do "the course" and the instructors knew NOTHING about what, and how, we did the job. Some of their "instruction" was downright dangerous.

We did have one funny incident. (we were all good mates and got on well) The arborist was on the hook being lifted up to a tree when the crane operator decided that he needed a wash, so, swung over the swimming pool and gently lowered him down. The poor bloke was trying to climb the wire (impossible task) before he got a dunking. :D

JackInCT - 10-2-2018 at 02:32

Originally posted by LSemmens
..our arborists had to do "the course" and the instructors knew NOTHING about what, and how, we did the job...

Without getting into the details of civil liability, supposedly "certified instructors" (and in the USA the aerial bucket is called a "cherry picker") teach the skills to avoid electrical lines contact--ideally when such situations occur, the power is turned off.

In a recent tree trimming spate on my block, a private contractor, hired by the electric utility company, did the work with the power on. I WON'T GET INTO WHETHER THE POWER COMPANY HAS ANY LEGAL RIGHT TO TRIM TREES ON PRIVATE PROPERTY to include whether the tree trimming crew has any right to enter a citizen's yard.

Supposedly the contractor's employees were taught, at some point, the various pieces of equipment, what pieces had to be on the truck, and serviceable, & how to detect worn equipment that was no longer safe/serviceable, and I would hope, but don't know, what tree trimming work near electric lines was so dangerous that it was left for a more experienced 'upgrade' to the next level of 'advanced' tree trimming experience (and of course doing the work so that as the branches fall they completely missed the power lines that were running through the tree branches).

And I sure would hope they were taught emergency procedures, i. e., what to do/not to do if a power line came down, to include keeping passers by out of harms way if that happened--not to mention if the power line fell on a parked car.

marymary100 - 10-2-2018 at 08:30

AmTrack had a terrible reputation in the 80s when I lived near DC.

JackInCT - 10-2-2018 at 13:14

Originally posted by marymary100
AmTrack had a terrible reputation in the 80s when I lived near DC.

(1) Amtrak does NOT own ANY of the tracks it runs on.

(2) It is a monopoly re cross country train service; local (inter-urban) commuter rail services are not operated by AmTrack.

FYI: I have never run across a cogent explanation of how Amtrak's dispatchers "interact" with the owner RRs of the track their trains run in, to include, most importantly, establishing priorities on "occupying" track.

Here in NE, Amtrak trains from Washington, then to NYC, & on to Boston also run on the same track as the freight RR, and as the interurban commuter rail services. Priorities must exist and how conflicts are resolved is NOT anything that I have any familiarity with, but I would imagine locking horns over track allocation is a common occurrence.

I see Amtrak trains all the time, and speed is not their claim to fame although there are 4 tracks from NYC to New Haven; I see Amtrak's Acela service and they are not going any faster than the commuter rail services cars. Amtrak makes very few station stops in CT; I presume part of the reason for that is that commuter rail, by political design, does not want to compete with Amtrak for passengers. AND there is no longer any freight trains on the track to speak of so that's not a problem in this area.

Katzy - 10-2-2018 at 19:23

Over here, the traffic is dictated by so-called "Class".

A class one train has highest priority and six has the lowest.

Class one trains are emergency units, Kinda. The lowest are freight trains.

I learnt a mnemonic, to remember them.

Be Sure That Everyone Meets Ned.

Breakdown (Going to attend).
Traction unit (Could be almost any loco).
Motorail and normal passenger stuff.
Non-denominated parcels.

There's a seventh class, which is unpiped (The only brakes are on the loco and the rear break van), loose-coupled freight trains, but I haven't known one of those to run since the early seventies. Most freight stuff moves at night.

If a train is in the way, as it were, it gets moved off the main line, until higher classes get past. But, paths are worked out well in advance, so that happens only very rarely.

Scary trains, i.e. those carrying nuclear flasks, hydrocyanic acid and the like are moved with great secrecy, for obvious reasons. Apart from the bobbies (signallers), almost nobody knows they're on the move and the bobby will only learn about it when it's fairly close by. EVERYTHING gets out of the way, for those!

JackInCT - 10-2-2018 at 21:39

Originally posted by Katzy
..Over here, the traffic is dictated by so-called "Class"....

Good piece, but you left out what "enforcement" mechanism/authority is in place, especially to resolve "disagreements", and what consequences exist for non-compliance [after the fact]. Would you have us believe that no one NEVER EVER lies about what class a given manifest is????

There is a somewhat similar "system" for air traffic control, and a "slot" allocation system for take offs at least at major airports.
Inbound planes of course have the advantage of a holding pattern system; no idea about low fuel issues, but IF I recall correctly, aircraft are suppose to arrive with a specified minimum of fuel on board. A fuel emergency is a bona fide call, but have zero idea how that's handled in an area like NYC where there are other airports very close by. Obviously air traffic control has many more inbound/outbound (takeoff) options than a RR to include needing permission to leave the departure gate.

Katzy - 11-2-2018 at 17:15

Nobody lies. because it wouldn't achieve anything. No disagreements. To every railway employee, those classes are obvious and non-negotiable. They've been set in stone for many, many years. Plus, if the bobby says "You don't go there", you don't. In most cases, you can't, even if you want to. In thirty years on the rails, I've never known it to happen.

If your unit's an express passenger, it's class four. It simply can't be anything else. You know that, the bobbies all know that and so do most of the line staff. So, there aren't disagreements, because it's all so darned obvious, to everyone. That kinda thing's drummed into all line staff, right from day one.

We have catch points, too, so that a vehicle can be deliberately derailed, if there's a problem.

Here, a train driver always learnt the jobs of other railwaymen, as well as their own. Because of that, when a bobby tells you something, you usually get the "Why", even if he doesn't tell you, as you know his job, almost as well as he does. (This may not be the case, now that the railways have been "Make as much money as we can and screw the safety cr@p" privatised).

JackInCT - 11-2-2018 at 22:05

Do any of your RRs operate on the "Just-in-time manufacturing/inventory" systems?

There is a video somewhere of a entire train inbound from the west coast to, I think it was, a Toyota assembly plant in the Midwest (with parts).

Part of the vid is what I presume is a fairly high level Toyota management type talking on multiple occasions, as the trip progresses (over multiple days), to his/her counterpart at the dispatch center of the RR re the expected, previously scheduled, arrival time at the plant. Apparently this 'just in time' concept means that the manufacturing process is timed out upon a scheduled arrival of a container ship, the expected off-load time from the ship to the train, and the train's departure and arrival. It, I suppose, could mean as the last part is used up on the assembly line, the restock process has refilled the parts bin from the train that just arrived.

Union Pacific has these "hot-z trains" [as part of normal operations] which are priority intermodal trains (originating on the west coast I presume). While UP is a huge RR, it doesn't have its own tracks everywhere; so the who/how establishes that one train has a priority over another is unknown; BUT my previous paragraph re the Toyota plant must involve a great deal of lost money if the train does not arrive as scheduled.

Derailments/floods/equipment breakdowns would, superficially, seem to make such a system unworkable re the predictability accuracy of arrival time at destinations.

LSemmens - 12-2-2018 at 08:40

J-I-T manufacturing has been around for a long time. The idea is, as you have surmised, a product arrives as it is needed. The idea is such that manufacturers have little money tied up in inventory and do not require huge warehouses for storage. WIKI explains it.

Katzy - 12-2-2018 at 11:05

Not something I'm familiar with, Jack. But, then, I drove passenger stuff, so I didn't need to know much about freight. Enough to drive one, if required, of course. But, I never was.

Katzy - 12-2-2018 at 13:26

By the way, if you want to see an odd track layout...


JackInCT - 12-2-2018 at 14:42

When Just In Time doesn't work out.


Dear Customer,

We regret to inform you that due to factors beyond our control there will be a delay in our delivery of your 3 aircraft.

We are pleased to announce the creation of a new management team that will take personal responsibility for the priority delivery of your future orders with us.

As always, it has been one of the pleasures of this company to have you as one of our customers, and we are looking forward to the continuation of our service to you.


Montana Rail Link Customer Fulfillment Dept

Occurred 2014-total loss (no injuries)-FYI: the transport of these 737 carcasses from the Boeing Wichita, Kansas plant to its Redmond, Washington plant has been occurring for years. Typically there are 3-4 carcasses per train. I've never seen a pix of what's inside one of these carcasses, i. e., how far along in the manufacturing process the inside has been fitted out, i. e. #2, whether the inside is simply a hollow shell, or completely fitted out.

And most definitely yes, I would have given anything to be the fly on the wall when some employee at Montana Rail Link made the first call to Boeing's HQ.