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Federal arrests for placing "shunts" on tracks.

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John Bredin

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So two women face federal terrorism charges for placing shunts on tracks in Washington state. Article. Another article.

To quote one article in turn quoting the federal Justice Dep't: "women accused of terrorism after a 'shunt' was placed on train tracks in Whatcom County, an act that could cause a train to derail or decouple, endangering the public, according to the U.S. Department of Justice." Which makes it sound like a derail.

But the articles state that a "shunt disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features.” Doesn't a shunt, or jumper-cabling one track to the other, complete the track circuit in the same way an actual train does, creating a "phantom" train on the signaling system? In other words, doesn't a shunt trigger safety features rather than disabling them?

If so, intentionally disrupting traffic by lowering crossing gates and dropping red track signals for non-existent trains is certainly sabotage of a sort and some kind of crime, but not destructive or dangerous to life and limb as the DOJ spins it. It seems like it would be "gumming up the works" sabotage rather than "destroying things" sabotage.

I'm particularly puzzled by "There were at least 10 different occasions where shunts were placed on the track near enough to a roadway to potentially cause crossing signal and crossing arm malfunctions, including failure to block traffic when a train was oncoming. On at least two occasions, individual shunts have interfered with multiple roadway/railway signals." While shunting would affect crossing gates and signals, wouldn't it block traffic for a non-existent train rather than failing to block traffic for a real oncoming train as claimed?
 

caravanman

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Here in the UK, the method of turning a signal to red/danger in case of an accident or other emergency was to place "track circuit clips" (carried on all trains) across the two rails. A shunt sounds as though it would be doing the same job in the US. You are correct in that the placing of a shunt/short circuit across the rails would block the passage of oncoming trains, and lower crossing barriers to block road vehicle traffic...
 

Willbridge

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So two women face federal terrorism charges for placing shunts on tracks in Washington state. Article. Another article.

To quote one article in turn quoting the federal Justice Dep't: "women accused of terrorism after a 'shunt' was placed on train tracks in Whatcom County, an act that could cause a train to derail or decouple, endangering the public, according to the U.S. Department of Justice." Which makes it sound like a derail.

But the articles state that a "shunt disrupts the low level electrical current on the tracks and can disable various safety features.” Doesn't a shunt, or jumper-cabling one track to the other, complete the track circuit in the same way an actual train does, creating a "phantom" train on the signaling system? In other words, doesn't a shunt trigger safety features rather than disabling them?

If so, intentionally disrupting traffic by lowering crossing gates and dropping red track signals for non-existent trains is certainly sabotage of a sort and some kind of crime, but not destructive or dangerous to life and limb as the DOJ spins it. It seems like it would be "gumming up the works" sabotage rather than "destroying things" sabotage.

I'm particularly puzzled by "There were at least 10 different occasions where shunts were placed on the track near enough to a roadway to potentially cause crossing signal and crossing arm malfunctions, including failure to block traffic when a train was oncoming. On at least two occasions, individual shunts have interfered with multiple roadway/railway signals." While shunting would affect crossing gates and signals, wouldn't it block traffic for a non-existent train rather than failing to block traffic for a real oncoming train as claimed?
That was the method used in the Sunset sabotage, except that the shunt was placed lengthwise to bridge a segment of rail that was removed.

The main danger to human life in the Whatcom County case as described here is that motorists behave badly enough at crossings. Where they start to suspect that crossing signals are false there's much more chance of bad behavior. That was the justification for the FRA and PUC holding up opening of the Colorado commuter rail lines. Superficial news coverage inferred that the gates wouldn't come down. The problem was mainly that they wouldn't go up.

The Federal press release -- aside from showing that they can't spell "braking" -- gives a clearer picture. The hazards that could warrant the high penalties including the danger of putting a freight train into emergency (getting a PTC equivalent of a red block without the expected yellow block before it) and confusion of high tech crossing gates.

As this appears to be a group activity on behalf of Canadian indigenous people it'll be another excuse for not operating the Cascades trains north of Seattle.

Federal press release

Bellingham Herald
 
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dlagrua

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What would drive any person to do such a terrible thing when peoples lives can be negatively affected? If this is an action done by an Indian tribe; trying to do harm to the innocent is not going to undo the past injustice done to native peoples.
 

Trogdor

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Some (Many? Most?) crossing signals a bit smarter than a simple “train/no train” detection setup. Granted, it may or may not be in this particular case, but some of them can detect (or, calculate) the speed at which a train is approaching and change their activation accordingly.

Some years ago I was at a Metra station where MOW crews were working on one of the tracks, and it kept triggering the grade crossing as their equipment moved back and forth (they weren’t actually moving across the crossing, but were moving close enough to trigger it). One of the maintenance workers then placed a shunt on their track near the crossing which activated the gates for a few seconds, then they went back up, and I assume it was because the crossing activation system detected no movement and thus assumed the “train” was stopped.

At some Caltrain stations in California, where the station is right next to a grade crossing, they will go up after the train comes to a stop the station (they will activate when the train is approaching, as the gates don’t know if the train will stop there or not). The gates are reactivated by the sound of the train horn.

Likewise, most gates go up soon after the train clears, but come down much earlier, meaning it’s not a single detection circuit.

Some on here want to assume that a shunt that activates and subsequently disables a grade crossing would also activate and keep a railroad signal at red. However, one cannot be dismissive of the danger and just assume that a signal at red will always protect you. The article doesn’t say where the signal blocks are relative to the crossings that were sabotaged, nor does it say whether or not a train was in the vicinity at the time.

It is entirely possible that these signals are 1-2 miles apart, and that a train could have just cleared the last signal before the crossing when the shunts were placed (remember the tragic Sunset Limited derailment where the barge hit the bridge, but the train had already cleared the last signal that could have warned them). In that case, there would be no indication to the train to stop/proceed at restricted speed, while the crossings could have already timed out and returned to permitting traffic through.

So, the quotes in the article are correct (as best as I can tell) and sabotage/terrorism charges are definitely appropriate.
 

Seaboard92

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The shunt really should only affect the grade crossings by triggering a ghost train. I'm trying to remember when I worked in signals back in 2013 what I can about them. I remember the control box counts down from 99 for grade crossing activation and the crossing activate I want to say at 60. So I could see where a shunt somewhere around where 60 would be activating a crossing for a cycle but without movement the gates would go back up. It also wouldn't stop the train from activating the crossing once it comes along but it would effect the timing of the gates because it uses that first 39 clicks to determine the speed and determine when to lower the gate. Now if the shunt was significantly closer to the track I could see where it could trigger a grade crossing accident because the train would have far less distance to trigger the crossing and stop traffic. People don't often times pay attention to those in the best of circumstances so it is just a bigger risk.

Now on a different front if one did it say with the intent to rob the crew by forcing a PTC shutdown in the locomotive or forcing something to stop at a red signal that I could see happening. I seam to recall awhile back a train crew got robbed at gun point in North Carolina waiting on a signal once. The other thing that would come under terrorism would be if you forced Amtrak to stop and boarded the train because most Superliner, Viewliner, and Horizon cars are easily opened from the outside of the car body. Now that definitely could be a terroristic act if it is a non state actor trying to enact change via violent means.

However reading up on the case they appear to be people who are protesting with the aboriginals in Canada back when Canada's rail service ground to a halt due to native protests in early 2020. The first observations of the pair correspond with the same dates as the original protests in Canada that shut the entirety of the Canadian passenger rail network down. I see why railroads are the target of the "native" protesters because they see the railroad as the tool used to colonize the western native lands. A good lawyer will probably be able to argue they were protesting in solidarity of the Canadian aboriginals and get the charge downgraded to Interference of Interstate Commerce which carries a lighter sentence and fine.

I actually feel sorry for the two girls in the beginning of their life to have gone and thrown it all away over something they probably did not truly understand. The mistakes of youth I feel sorry for their life being wasted. Now do I agree with what they did god no, it was wreckless, it was stupid, and could have gotten someone killed. I'm sure they did it with ideological good intentions as most young people try to do. We are lucky no one was killed. But now for the rest of their life they have to live with a potential terrorism charge whenever they apply for work in the future, or attempt to travel.

Personally I thought the initial protest in Canada where multiple mainlines were shut down by the natives was incredibly stupid. For one or two days I would argue it would be mildly successful an inconvenience but when you start attempting to disrupt the Canadian and to a lesser degree the American economy over the course of that length it becomes increasingly hard for average people to see their plight. Radical moves are performed to get attention to issues that no one really wants to cover, but it almost always backfires because it hurts the overall movement. Now people like me who didn't really have an opinion one way or another on the pipeline they were building in BC now have a strong opinion because of the disruption to their daily life.

I would also be willing to argue a lot of the blame came down to the Trudeau government who did not act fast enough to really stop the protests. It is a difficult balancing act between trampling over freedom of expression and speech, and preventing large scale disruption to the general population. Both have to be protected and I think the handling of the crisis was poorly done.
 

jiml

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It's important to note that the protests that shut down Canadian rail several months ago were in some cases taken over by "professional protesters" - some from other countries - who show up for protests against government and authority everywhere. The original location in recognition of the Wet'suwet'en traditional chiefs was actually resolved and dismantled before many of the "supporting" ones.

I would also be willing to argue a lot of the blame came down to the Trudeau government who did not act fast enough to really stop the protests. It is a difficult balancing act between trampling over freedom of expression and speech, and preventing large scale disruption to the general population. Both have to be protected and I think the handling of the crisis was poorly done.
Couldn't have said it better.
 

Seaboard92

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It's important to note that the protests that shut down Canadian rail several months ago were in some cases taken over by "professional protesters" - some from other countries - who show up for protests against government and authority everywhere. The original location in recognition of the Wet'suwet'en traditional chiefs was actually resolved and dismantled before many of the "supporting" ones.
Honestly the handling of the crisis would have made a really good West Wing episode, and the length of it could have made a decent season ark.
 

bms

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What would drive any person to do such a terrible thing when peoples lives can be negatively affected? If this is an action done by an Indian tribe; trying to do harm to the innocent is not going to undo the past injustice done to native peoples.
The women don't appear to be affiliated with any Native tribe.
 

Willbridge

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The women don't appear to be affiliated with any Native tribe.
In reading about their backgrounds in various websites I learned from right wing sites that they had volunteered for various left and environmental causes and what companies they had worked for. From left wing sites I learned about their gentle roles teaching and doing charitable work. As I weeded my way through I felt as though I had just time traveled back to the 1970's. In our neighborhood in Berlin back then there were young people who went over the line from well-meaning activism to gun battles with the police. It affected all our lives at the time, but was little noticed back home in the States due to the real war in Vietnam.

From my experience, in a way the young women are lucky they were caught now doing what they are alleged to have done. The experience in Germany was for things to escalate.

The German story: Troubled Times

From kindergarten to prison: "Dawn of Modern Terrorism"

The rails in Berlin were not attacked back then, probably because our Deutsche Reichsbahn was owned by the German Democratic Republic and one dare not bite the hand that feeds one. Later on there was an attempt to blow up the U.S. Army Frankfurt -- Berlin train on the Deutsche Bundesbahn.
 

Devil's Advocate

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That was the method used in the Sunset sabotage, except that the shunt was placed lengthwise to bridge a segment of rail that was removed.
It's true the sabotage at Palo Verde used wire to hide a quickly and carefully executed track separation from detection. That attack essentially guaranteed a major passenger train derailment whereas these shunt stunts have occurred dozens of times without derailments. That's not to say these actions are safe or rational, or that they should not be punished, but nuance matters and implying these events are similar to the disastrous Sunset Limited attack is objectively incorrect.

I would also be willing to argue a lot of the blame came down to the Trudeau government who did not act fast enough to really stop the protests. It is a difficult balancing act between trampling over freedom of expression and speech, and preventing large scale disruption to the general population. Both have to be protected and I think the handling of the crisis was poorly done.
In addition to punishing dangerous and poorly reasoned activism perhaps the Canadian government could stop favoring the oil industry and start giving equal weight to environmental concerns. Perhaps it's time to put their regulations where their mouth is, so to speak. They've talked the talk and now it's time to start walk the walk.
 
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bms

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In reading about their backgrounds in various websites I learned from right wing sites that they had volunteered for various left and environmental causes and what companies they had worked for. From left wing sites I learned about their gentle roles teaching and doing charitable work. As I weeded my way through I felt as though I had just time traveled back to the 1970's. In our neighborhood in Berlin back then there were young people who went over the line from well-meaning activism to gun battles with the police. It affected all our lives at the time, but was little noticed back home in the States due to the real war in Vietnam.

From my experience, in a way the young women are lucky they were caught now doing what they are alleged to have done. The experience in Germany was for things to escalate.

The German story: Troubled Times

From kindergarten to prison: "Dawn of Modern Terrorism"

The rails in Berlin were not attacked back then, probably because our Deutsche Reichsbahn was owned by the German Democratic Republic and one dare not bite the hand that feeds one. Later on there was an attempt to blow up the U.S. Army Frankfurt -- Berlin train on the Deutsche Bundesbahn.
Great post, and I think you're right. The book "American Pastoral" by Philip Roth has a character like this (great book).
 

railiner

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I have tried to resist commenting on this issue, but I could not. Such forms of 'protest' makes my blood boil. If I say how I really feel about this, I would probably get banned from AU, so will let it go at that...🤐
 

Devil's Advocate

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I have tried to resist commenting on this issue, but I could not. Such forms of 'protest' makes my blood boil. If I say how I really feel about this, I would probably get banned from AU, so will let it go at that...🤐
It's certainly true that environmental activism has a major problem with violence and murder, although perhaps not in the way you're thinking. The list of environmentalists murdered under obvious or suspicious circumstances numbers in the thousands while the list of people killed by environmental terrorists is essentially zero. The closest they ever came was probably Earth Liberation Front. ELF mainly attacked property when people were away or would call in a threat to encourage anyone present to leave. Ted Kaczynski has been called an environmental activist but most of his attacks carried no clear message other than anger at technology and industry. This helped him avoid capture but muddied whatever cultural and societal goals he may have held at the time. Kaczynski's manifesto was a mix of confusing and sometimes contradictory positions that appeared to be pulled from a variety of competing views and concepts that shared more of their perspective with libertarianism and Luddism than environmentalism as we would know it.
 
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