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Amtrak Train 91-CSX collision in SC (2/4/18)/Liability issues

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Just-Thinking-51

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The engineer of the stopped CSX train had exited the lead locomotive before the Amtrak train entered the siding, ran to safety, and was not injured. The conductor of the CSX lead locomotive saw the Amtrak train approaching in the siding and ran to the back of locomotive. The conductor was thrown off the locomotive and sustained minor injuries.
 
 
Per the NTSB, kind of implied that the CSX engineer was aware of the switch had been open. So the question remains was the switch opened with dispatcher authority?
 

Thirdrail7

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Per the NTSB, kind of implied that the CSX engineer was aware of the switch had been open. So the question remains was the switch opened with dispatcher authority?
The switch was reported closed to the dispatcher, so it no longer had the authority to remain opened.  IIRC,  the engineer was having misgivings because it seemed like he got the done too quickly and was going to check it himself.  This is why he was off the engine.

At any rate, we can hear directly from he engineer tonight when an interview with him airs on 60 Minutes.  Set your DVR, VCR or Betamax. The show is on!

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fired-engineer-recounts-deadly-crash-between-amtrak-and-freight-trains-60-minutes/

Mark James describes the deadly crash of an Amtrak passenger train into his CSX train in his first interview since the accident that killed two and injured many more. But as Lesley Stahl reports, the crash could have been prevented. Stahl's investigation will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, March 3 at 7 p.m., ET/PT on CBS.

James says he had questioned his conductor about the mainline switch. "I asked him multiple times. I trusted him that he had gotten the switch back." The Amtrak engineer and conductor were killed and more than 90 passengers were injured, some badly. One of the Amtrak cars was bent in half. "They're bringing people off with broke arms, legs, people mangled really. This is something… I'll never get over. I couldn't imagine anybody else that's ever seen that before," says James.
 

Amtrak706

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CBS's special report seems to be about how PTC could have prevented this accident, and those heartless evil railroads that have "neglected" to install the system. And... gloss over the fact that the entire reason the railroad was on EC-1s that night was because of PTC preparation work. Sure the railroads could probably have moved faster on this, but the report makes it seem like they just ignored it.
 

jis

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Just like many other things these days people with shallow knowledge form a random often incorrect story board and run with it for all they are worth. A technically complex thing like PTC with the added political complications around it, are way beyond the comprehension of most average news reporters, so it may be too much to expect anything that remotely resembles a fully informed discourse. That is unfortunate, but that is the way it is.

Besides even with PTC fully available, if someone illegally turns it off, like the switch was left set contrary to regulation, there is nothing that would prevent an accident under those circumstances. In an environment with discipline wanting, human ingenuity will always trump any conceivable safety system at the worst possible moment. Mr. Murphy is always alive.
 
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Thirdrail7

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And... gloss over the fact that the entire reason the railroad was on EC-1s that night was because of PTC preparation work. Sure the railroads could probably have moved faster on this, but the report makes it seem like they just ignored it.
Indeed. They should have stated the irony of this.
 

Thirdrail7

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A couple of fair use quotes from the interview with the engineer in 60 minutes report https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-safe-are-americas-railroads-60-minutes/.

The freight company in the South Carolina crash, CSX, declined our interview request, but sent us a letter saying it has already spent "$2.5 billion" on PTC and that the crash was "the result of human error, and violations of long-standing operating procedures." CSX fired both the conductor and engineer Mark James.  

Lesley Stahl: Are you fighting this?

Mark James: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: Are you challenging--

Mark James: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: --the firing?

Mark James: Yes. There's nothing I could have done to prevent the accident. I did nothing to cause the accident and I got fired anyway.
They probably fired the engineer on the basis of this rule, which as you can see I questioned the application:

 Leaving the accident aside, the workforce has been cut down, people have been reassigned and are under the gun to do more with less. They want performance and movement. This isn't a CSX or Amtrak problem. It is labor problem.

Without addressing this incident, and I'm not making excuses but I've always had a problem with part of the switch awareness form as I think it can lead to unnecessary pressure, particularly being rushed. Here is the part i never liked (which is admittedly my problem, not the railroads):

608.9 When hand-operated switches are used in Track Warrant Control non-signal territory (TWC-D), the

train dispatcher must use the train dispatcher radio to confirm:

1. Location of the switch(es) operated,

2. Switch(es) were restored and locked in normal position,

3. Time switch(es) were initially reversed,

4. Time switch(es) were restored and locked in normal position,

5. Name of the employee who operated the switch(es), and

6. The Switch Position Awareness Form (SPAF) was initialed by both the conductor and

locomotive operator.

Now, I just want you to consider this scenario. You're the conductor and you're shoving a draft of 75 cars into a siding. As such, you are riding the point of the movement. You make an agreement with your engineer to stop and line the switch for the main and report clear. He stops and tells you he did this...but you're 75 cars away and the dispatcher wants the track. Do you them to standby while you walk up 75 cars (which would take a considerable amount of time) to verify that your crew member actually threw the switch before initialing the Awareness form or trust them?

Conversely, you're the engineer and you stop at a hand thrown switch. You drop your conductor off and he lines the movement. You now pull a 9000 ft freight train off the main. The conductor stops you, reports the switch locked and lined for the main and report clear. You both begin working towards each other while you secure the train. The conductor hands you the awareness form and wants you to initial it. Meanwhile the dispatcher wants the main. Again, I know we all speak of safety and trust but verify. However, how patient will everyone be when you delay a hotshot because it took 40 minutes for you to walk a mile and half to verify what was allegedly done?

I'm not a fan of signing something I didn't personally witness but in the current rush rush environment, I really wonder if pressure is put on the crews.
Along those lines, the engineer made a similar  statement as to why he is not at fault:

It was the CSX conductor's job that night to throw the switches by hand like this to realign the tracks and thereby change the direction the train could go.   

Lesley Stahl: Are there a lotta switches?

Mark James: Lotsa switches, yes.

Lesley Stahl: Like, how many?

Mark James: He probably handled close to 40 switches that evening.

But there was only one switch that would matter for the passengers and crew of Amtrak's Silver Star, the switch to keep Amtrak on the main line.

Mark James: That's when I ask him, "Did you get the mainline switch?" And he assured me that he had thrown it 100 percent.

Lesley Stahl: He said, "100 percent?"

Mark James: Uh-huh.

Lesley Stahl: In the training, does it say that you-- you should check, you should double-check?

Mark James: No. There's no way I can get off a locomotive and go check every switch he throws. That way, you'd get nothing done.

Lesley Stahl: But you had a feeling.

Mark James: Yeah. I did. I asked him multiple times. I trusted him that he had gotten the switch back.
I would love to see a follow up question to CSX.  Will they allow a a train to take an hour to throw a switch in the name of safety? Of course, they'd likely say yes which is fine, as long as it is documented.
 

Thirdrail7

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I love the owner of the electrical contracting business, who clearly doubles as a track inspector in his spare time!

Albert Linden: Every day you get some of the locomotives loaded with everything. They heading that way, and they moving 60 miles an hour, too.

Albert Linden owns an electrical contracting business next to the crash site in Cayce, South Carolina. It was his surveillance camera that captured the accident.

Albert Linden: These tracks are in horrible shape.

Lesley Stahl: Had you ever seen any other accident? Any derailment?

Albert Linden: Yes, ma'am. It's quite frequent.

Lesley Stahl: It's frequent?

Albert Linden: In the last ten years, there's probably been seven, eight of them. They forgot to flip the switch, and derailed them in here.

Lesley Stahl: The same thing?

Albert Linden: Yes, ma'am. Forgetting to flip the switch.

Lesley Stahl: And you're just sitting here, watching this unfold before your very eyes?

Albert Linden: They, they-- it's a common occurrence.
Yes..they are yard tracks. They are typically 5 mph tracks and how does he know all of those derailments have been caused by run though switches?
 

cpotisch

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CBS's special report seems to be about how PTC could have prevented this accident, and those heartless evil railroads that have "neglected" to install the system. And... gloss over the fact that the entire reason the railroad was on EC-1s that night was because of PTC preparation work. Sure the railroads could probably have moved faster on this, but the report makes it seem like they just ignored it.
I love the owner of the electrical contracting business, who clearly doubles as a track inspector in his spare time!

Yes..they are yard tracks. They are typically 5 mph tracks and how does he know all of those derailments have been caused by run though switches?
Exactly. I'm most likely the least knowledgeable person here about this stuff, yet even I could detect the absurdity of this interview.

Here's the thread discussing it, BTW:
 

GBNorman

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"60 Minutes" is available on Comcast On-Demand day following the airing i.e. Monday.

Other providers I cannot speak to.
 

GBNorman

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I "just loved" the reference to the "secret imdemnity agreement" noted by Ms. Stahl in her report. Indemnity is one of the provisions with the bilateral Agreement held between Amtrak and each road over which their trains operate.

Yes, I guess the Agreement is "secret" - only because it is bilateral and as such exempt from publc disclosure.

Finally, I have not been employed within the industry now pushing forty years. However, when I was there, the indemnity provisions resembled "no fault". Each party was responsible for "cleaning up their own mess". Amtrak would indemnify their passengers and employees and the railroad the same. Same provisions for property.

Since leaving, "I'd heard" that several roads were seeking to have the burden of indemnity fall to the passenger carriers, which of course, save Brightline, means the taxpayers. To what extent such provisions are in force today, I know not.
 

AGM.12

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It's interesting that the vast majority of rail fatalities are train/motor vehicle collisions at road crossings and pedestrian/trespasser incidents. How is PTC suppose to solve these? 
 
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