Grade crossing accidents -- the view from the cab

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FormerOBS

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There's been so much discussion of grade crossing accidents lately. I found a very interesting and enlightening article when I googled The Engineers View Of Grade Crossing Accidents. I can't seem to get a link, but if you try googling it, you should be able to find it. It's on the oppositelock.jalopnik,com site.

It should be remembered that the story the engineer tells involves the operation of a freight train. The dynamics of passenger train operation are somewhat different, but the basic principles are the same: The train can't stop in time and if you're in the way, you lose.

Tom
 
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George K

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Thanks for the link. Amazing, scary, and thought-provoking. I just drove over the crossing at Rte 173 in Antioch on Saturday. Shocking that the train master made them proceed after that horrific event.

I seem to be seeing a lot of incidents lately. Perhaps it's because I'm paying closer attention. Has there been an increase?
 

Ryan

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Wow, that was a powerful read. I'm still trying to process it.

I don't think that there's been any statistically relevant increase - these things sometimes come in clusters, and we're programmed to try and make patterns out of things.
 

greatcats

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Thank you, Tom, for suggesting the article. A good read, indeed. That Trainmaster should have been canned. I take it that train crew is still working?
 

Railroad Bill

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As my brother recently retired as an engineer, I have heard some of his horror stories about people going around the gates, ignoring flashing signals at crossings, and sometimes the dingbats who throw things at trains as they pass. He luckily never had a fatality in a car crash although he did run over a man who had fallen asleep on the tracks (later to be determined as under the influence) and killed him. The amount of knowledge that a trained engineer and conductor have about train dynamics is amazing, as illustrated by this story. If only people realized how small their chances of survival are if hit by a locomotive, perhaps there would be fewer episodes as this. But most people involved in crashes are not thinking or are so engrossed in their cell phones or texting they are oblivious to their impending death.

This is a well written story that should be read by every drivers education class in the US.
 
G

Guest

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That Trainmaster should have been canned.
I agree.

Matter of fact, I would have thought that it would be required (by law? by union rules? by FRA?) that the crew not be allowed to continue to work that day, even if they wanted.
 
G

Guest

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Maybe someone where could answer this somewhat related question. I thought that locomotives have a "safe room" (safe closet?) into which, an engineer could retreat into, when faced with an inevitable collision? I wondered this, after reading about how they were basically tossed around the cab as the consist compressed.
 

spacecadet

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I thought that locomotives have a "safe room" (safe closet?) into which, an engineer could retreat into, when faced with an inevitable collision?
Even if that were true (and I don't believe it is), how would they have time to get there? And at what point are they supposed to give up on preventing the collision and relinquish all control of the engine? (That question is somewhat rhetorical - at the very least, they've gotta keep blowing the horn.)
 

BCL

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I thought that locomotives have a "safe room" (safe closet?) into which, an engineer could retreat into, when faced with an inevitable collision?
Even if that were true (and I don't believe it is), how would they have time to get there? And at what point are they supposed to give up on preventing the collision and relinquish all control of the engine? (That question is somewhat rhetorical - at the very least, they've gotta keep blowing the horn.)
Duplicate controls and a camera perhaps? I really can't see it happening though. Most collisions happen within seconds.

http://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0321

http://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0302

Apparently the wide-nosed cab is a standard for freight locomotives and meant for safety of the occupant. Not sure if there's anything similar addressing passenger locomotives. Most these days have an aerodynamic design.
 

benjibear

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I found it hard to believe that they let the crew go on like that with no examination. I was under the impression when a railroad crash happened, there was mandatory drug and alcohol testing for the engineer.
 

George K

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Never Mind: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/489/602

From 1989:


Among other things, Subpart C of the regulations requires railroads to see that blood and urine tests of covered employees are conducted following certain major train accidents or incidents, while Subpart D authorizes, but does not require, railroads to administer breath or urine tests, or both, to covered employees who violate certain safety rules. Respondents, the Railway Labor Executives' Association and various of its member labor organizations, brought suit in the Federal District Court to enjoin the regulations. The court granted summary judgment for petitioners, concluding that the regulations did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling, inter alia, that a requirement of particularized suspicion is essential to a finding that toxicological testing of railroad employees is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The court stated that such a requirement would ensure that the tests, which reveal the presence of drug metabolites that may remain in the body for weeks following ingestion, are confined to the detection of current impairment.
 
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FormerOBS

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This occurred October 18, 1989, about 25-1/2 years ago. I think in the meantime the laws/regs regarding drug & alcohol testing, continuation of service, etc. have become more strict. I think today the RR would insist on testing, if only to protect themselves and the engineer from unfounded accusations in court. In OBS, we were always told that we could be randomly tested, and that it was very likely that we would be tested in the event of an FRA-reportable injury. Never happened to me. I don't know anything about the later careers of these railroaders, but I would love to hear that the trainmaster was fired. Probably didn't work out that way, though.

Tom
 

Bjartmarr

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Ouch, it sounds like that crash really turned the guy's world upside down.

Of course some people (including the bereaved) are going to blame the engineer, and of course he's going to feel those accusations most acutely because he's already traumatized. But I would expect that the vast majority of reasonable people are going to understand that he's not at fault. He probably has a hard time seeing that, though.

One physics question -- when the engineer hits the emergency, the front of the train starts to brake while the rear doesn't (yet). So the engine initially slows down by braking until the car behind it absorbs the slop in the coupler, then the car behind it slams into the engine and speeds it up again (though not quite as fast as it was going initially). Is that correct? So wouldn't the occupants of the engine be thrown into the REAR of the cab compartment, not the front, as the engine is slammed forward under them?
 

FormerOBS

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During an emergency application, there's a lot of fore-and-aft jostling as the various cars work against each other. The brakes grab on the engine and you're thrown forward. Then the car behind slams into the engine & you're thrown back. Then the brakes on that car grab & you're thrown forward. But the car behind that one hits it and you're thrown back. The cars start to "fight" each other because one car isn't as free-rolling as the next. It's like a concertina. Fortunately for us as passengers, our passenger cars have tightlock couplers that have very little slack in them, so these effects are minimized in a passenger train. Nevertheless, you will probably feel these effects to some extent if you're on a train during an emergency stop. If you hear the sharp sound of the air suddenly being released, SIT DOWN or get on the floor.

In most cases, there is no actual designated safe area for the engineer to use. Most freight engines have an open catwalk behind the cab, and there would be very little safety there. Amtrak P-40's and P-42's have an enclosed area behind the cab, which is the engine room. If the engineer has time, he might be able to get to the engine room where he is probably a bit safer. Several years ago a P-42 hit a large electrical device of some kind near Kissimmee, FL, and the engine was towed to Sanford for temporary storage. I got a look at that engine and concluded that the engineer MUST have managed to get into the engine room because the cab was utterly crushed, and I don't think he could have survived if he hadn't gotten out of there.

Tom
 
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G

Guest

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This occurred October 18, 1989, about 25-1/2 years ago. I think in the meantime the laws/regs regarding drug & alcohol testing, continuation of service, etc. have become more strict. I think today the RR would insist on testing, if only to protect themselves and the engineer from unfounded accusations in court. In OBS, we were always told that we could be randomly tested, and that it was very likely that we would be tested in the event of an FRA-reportable injury. Never happened to me. I don't know anything about the later careers of these railroaders, but I would love to hear that the trainmaster was fired. Probably didn't work out that way, though.

Tom
No, they would not normaly be tested. Non random tests can only be done if there is reasonble suspicion that the crew might be under the influence. FRA reportable injury is if the crew is injured and there is lost time from certain types of injury but not all injuries. For example if you as OBS cuts yourself and they take you to the emergency room and they put a band aid on that is not FRA reportable. But if you require three stiches then it is FRA reportable.

Amtrak as an example does not test crews involved in grade crossing or trespasser incidents. Also in 1989 a supervisor might have insisted the crew continue but the unions have negotiated since then that the crews will get three days off with pay after critical incidents and counseling during those three days.
 
G

Guest

Guest
During an emergency application, there's a lot of fore-and-aft jostling as the various cars work against each other. The brakes grab on the engine and you're thrown forward. Then the car behind slams into the engine & you're thrown back. Then the brakes on that car grab & you're thrown forward. But the car behind that one hits it and you're thrown back. The cars start to "fight" each other because one car isn't as free-rolling as the next. It's like a concertina. Fortunately for us as passengers, our passenger cars have tightlock couplers that have very little slack in them, so these effects are minimized in a passenger train. Nevertheless, you will probably feel these effects to some extent if you're on a train during an emergency stop. If you hear the sharp sound of the air suddenly being released, SIT DOWN or get on the floor.
On a passenger train you will feel an emergency application at slow speeds. The worst applications are when a passenger pulls the emergency handle when they miss their stop thinking that is an emergency and the train is slowly accelerating leaving a station. You can get knocked to the floor before you know what happened. At 125 MPH there is not much motion, it would feel like normal braking to most passengers and probably only astute members of the train crew can tell the train is in emergency.
 

FormerOBS

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On the second video, you hear the sharp sound at about 1:55. Then the brakes begin to apply, but you don't start to hear the mechanical sounds right away. It takes about 20 seconds for the train to stop. Sometimes the sound can be very sharp, like a rifle crack. Other times it can be like a loud whoosh. I don't know why the different sounds. It may have to do with the amount of air pressure in the brake pipe, or your proximity to the source of the break in the line, or some other factor.

It's true that a high speed train will not be seriously affected right away. The train's momentum ensures that there won't be many (if any) high speed jolts. But once the train gets its speed down --- maybe 20 mph or so --- the cars will often begin to fight one another as each car tries to slow down at a slightly different rate, as compared to the next car. If you're going to get bounced around, it will probably be in the 0 to 20 or 30 mph range. So just sit down and brace yourself.

Superliners are very well insulated as far as sound is concerned. I've had situations where we went into emergency & I never even heard the air.

Tom
 
I

inthegauge

Guest
FRA has promulgated rules about testing T&E crews in highway/rail collisions. In short, a cop is NOT to even think about D&A testing of train crews. Period. No exceptions. A railroad official such as a road foreman or trainmaster may, but only if reason exists to warrant a test (reasonable suspicion of a D&A violation).

A cop can threaten to take a crew to jail for failure to test, to which I say, "Knock yourself out, Barney, I'll be on overtime when you take me in!"

It is also very important for a train crew to NEVER give a cop their drivers license, home address, or anything of the sort. They'll look to screw up the report so an engineer's auto insurance rates go through the roof for allegedly broadsiding a car. Just like anywhere else in a country where you're 56 times more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist, never trust the police. True public safety civil servants include firemen, EMT's and the like: police are parasites. And they have no jurisdiction above the rail in a highway/rail grade crossing accident.
 

lo2e

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What exactly, descriptively, is "the sharp sound of the air suddenly being released"?
I equate it to the same sound the air pump at your local gas station makes when the nozzle isn't 100% connected to your tire, but much louder - a very loud "whoosh".
 
M

Motorcar

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I would have thought that it would be required (by law? by union rules? by FRA?) that the crew not be allowed to continue to work that day, even if they wanted.
No, no, and no to answer your question. Crew is asked if they would like to be given relief but not required. Every individual deals with it differently. I hold no ill will towards a fellow crewman that wants to be relieved, that is his way through dealing with what has just happened. Some see it as paid time off so they jump at the chance. I've always got back in the saddle and continued on to my destination once the police finished. The poor passengers through no fault of their own got delayed for hours because of a moron, waiting on another crew just adds to the frustration.

To also back up what others have said, no drug testing on grade crossing/tresspasser fatalities. Probable cause testing is only done if there is reasonable suspision the crewman is under the influence post accident. If a pedestrian ran out on the interstate highway high on meth and you were unable to avoid hitting him with your car, would you expect to be hauled off and be given MANDATORY drug and alcohol testing at the lab even though you show NO signs of imparement? You would have a little issue with that I would think.
 
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