The derailment of a non-passenger train outside the Smithsonian Metro station last Thursday was caused by a track defect that was discovered on July 9 but not fixed, Metro said.
The transit agency is again facing public scrutiny after the derailment happened as the morning commute got underway that day. A six-car train was leaving the rail yard and gearing up for service near the Smithsonian Metro station.
Metro interim general manager and CEO Jack Requa said the train’s wheels lost contact with the rail due to an infrastructure problem known as “wide gauge.” The rail had widen so much that it caused the wheels to lose grip from the tracks and the train’s eventual derailment.
“The one that was detected was a Code Black defect,” said Metro deputy general manager Rob Troup. “That track should have been taken out of service at that period of time.”
“I want to take this opportunity to again and again apologize to our customers,” Requa said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
He said he could not defend the transit agency’s failure to repair the issue prior to the derailment.
“This is totally unacceptable,” said Requa. “It is unacceptable to me and it should be unacceptable to everyone within the chain of command, all the way down to track laborers and track inspectors who are out on the lines on a first-line basis.”
Following the derailment, Requa ordered a system-wide inspection of every mile of track, which could take up to a month to complete. He said customers can expect delays in the coming days as possible additional track repairs are made.
Requa apologized to customers for Thursday’s derailment and delays caused by a power issue the following day.
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Friday that allows BART to purchase renewable energy directly from wholesale suppliers as the rail system looks to further reduce its carbon footprint.
SB502 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, eliminates a barrier the BART Board of Directors face when purchasing electricity, which is currently limited to a short list of approved suppliers, according to bill supporters.
Under the new law, BART officials would no longer have to go through a third party to buy renewable energy on their behalf and instead could purchase directly from facilities covered under California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard.
“BART is a vital regional transit system that is working to increase its use of clean energy, but current state law unnecessarily limits the agency from further decreasing its carbon footprint,” Leno said in a statement. “This bill supports state goals to combat climate change and enables BART to continue providing cost-effective transportation for the Bay Area while increasing the agency’s use of renewable energy.”
BART buys its electricity from the Northern California Power Agency and the Western Area Power Administration. The trains, which are 100 percent electric, derive half of their power from clean hydroelectric power and renewable sources.
“This legislation will allow us to seek out new sources of clean renewable energy and for suppliers to offer it to us at a good price,” BART board President Thomas Blalock said in a statement.
Rail safety technology improvements delayed by cost, complexity
Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau, May 14, 2015
Most of the nation’s railroads will not meet a Dec. 31 deadline for installing collision-avoidance technology that could have prevented Tuesday’s deadly Amtrak crash in Philadelphia.
Congress in 2008 required that railroads install positive train control by the end of this year, and although the rail industry has made progress on the $9 billion system, equipping 60,000 miles of track and 22,500 locomotives with the technology has proved to be complicated.
The technology has to work across not only the seven largest freight railroads but also 20 commuter railroads, Amtrak and dozens of smaller carriers. It requires 36,000 wireless devices that relay information to train crews and dispatchers from signals and track switches.
It also must work in densely populated regions where multiple rail lines intersect and are heavy with passenger and freight traffic, such as Chicago, Southern California, New York and New Jersey.
“Each of these systems has to be able to talk to each other,” said Ed Hamberger, the president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, an industry group.
Even lawmakers who months ago wanted to hold the industry to the 2015 deadline have softened their position in recognition that the system simply won’t be ready.
Hamberger told reporters Thursday that the industry needs another three years just to get the equipment installed, and two more to make sure it works. Of the 60,000 miles of track where the system is required, he said only 8,200 miles would be ready by year’s end.
A bill approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in March would give railroads until 2020 to complete the task. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who wrote the legislation that contained the 2015 deadline, said a five-year blanket extension was not the answer.
“In my view, that is an extremely reckless policy,” she said in a statement Thursday. Feinstein has introduced a bill that would extend the deadline on a case-by-case basis.
The technology was not in place at the site of Tuesday’s derailment, on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger railroad in the country. The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that positive train control would have prevented Train 188 from approaching a 50 mph curve at more than 106 mph.
Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured. It was Amtrak’s first fatal accident on the Northeast Corridor since a January 1987 crash that killed 16 people. In that instance, positive train control could have stopped a freight locomotive from running past a stop signal into the path of the Amtrak train.
The NTSB has recommended positive train control for decades. In January, the board included the technology on its “Most Wanted” list of safety improvements. It did not endorse giving railroads an extension beyond December.
Amtrak actually may finish its installation of the system on the entire 457-mile passenger rail corridor between Washington and Boston ahead of most railroads.
“We will complete this by the end of the year,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said Thursday at a news conference in Philadelphia.
The rail industry supports the Senate bill that would give the companies a five-year deadline extension, and even some of the industry’s toughest critics in Congress are prepared to give it more time.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, freight hauler BNSF and Metrolink, a commuter railroad in Southern California, are positioned to meet the original deadline.
An August 2008 collision near Chatsworth, Calif., prompted Congress to pass the Rail Safety Improvement Act requiring positive train control. Twenty-five people were killed when a Metrolink commuter train ran past a stop signal and into the path of a Union Pacific freight. According to the NTSB accident report, the Metrolink engineer, who was among those killed, was texting just before the crash.
Another fatal crash, on New York’s Metro North commuter railroad in December 2013, renewed calls for positive train control. Four people were killed when a New York-bound train jumped the tracks in the Bronx. The train was traveling 80 mph when it hit a 30 mph curve.
Positive train control is designed to prevent a train from running a red signal or approaching a slow curve too fast. Accident investigators don’t yet know why Train 188 was going more than twice the appropriate speed when it derailed in Northeast Philadelphia, but they do know the accident was preventable.
“The Amtrak disaster shows why we must install positive train control technology as soon as possible,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a statement Thursday.
One thing Congress did not do when it required railroads to install the system was give them any money to do it. When asked Thursday how much the government had contributed to the freight railroads to assist with positive train control, Hamberger, of the Association of American Railroads, replied, “Zero.”
President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget includes $825 million to help commuter railroads install the technology. The president’s 2009 economic stimulus provided $64 million to Amtrak for its installation. But that wasn’t enough, the railroad said in a report justifying its 2014 budget request.
Overall, Amtrak has spent $110.7 million since 2008 to install positive train control.
“Additional funding to fully comply with PTC requirements is necessary,” Amtrak said.
Richard Harnish, the president of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, a group that advocates for passenger rail improvements, said in a statement Thursday that positive train control was delayed because Congress gave railroads an unfunded mandate.
“Congress needs to invest in the safety of our transportation system,” he said.
Repost from Reuters [Editor: Significant quote: “…in a move that may have helped avert a more catastrophic accident, the train used an emergency braking system moments before impact, and the rail cars had safety features that helped absorb the energy of the crash….” It’s a good thing that safety improvements in commuter cars are well ahead of those for hazmat tank cars. – RS]
Fifty hurt when Southern California commuter train slams into truck
By Michael Fleeman, OXNARD, Calif. Tue Feb 24, 2015 5:40pm EST
(Reuters) – A Los Angeles-bound commuter train slammed into a produce truck apparently stuck on the tracks in a Southern California city before dawn on Tuesday, injuring 50 people in a fiery crash, some of them critically.
The truck driver, who was not hurt, left the scene of the destruction in Oxnard on foot and was found walking and disoriented one or two miles away, Assistant Police Chief Jason Benitez said.
Benitez said the 54-year-old driver from Arizona was not arrested but investigators were trying to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing in the 5:45 a.m. PST (8:45 a.m EST) wreck, which overturned three double-decker Metrolink rail cars. Two others derailed but remained upright.
While no-one was killed, the force of the impact ripped the truck apart and left burned-out chunks and twisted wreckage still smoldering hours later.
Benitez said it appeared that the truck driver had taken a wrong turn in the pre-dawn darkness and ended up on the tracks, where the rig became stuck as the train approached at 79 miles per hour.
But in a move that may have helped avert a more catastrophic accident, the train used an emergency braking system moments before impact, and the rail cars had safety features that helped absorb the energy of the crash, Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten said.
“I think we can safely say that the technology worked. It definitely minimized the impact. It would have been a very serious collision, it would have been much worse without it,” Lustgarten said.
The crash came three weeks after a Metro-North commuter train struck a car at a crossing outside New York City and derailed in a fiery accident that killed six people.
TRAIN OPERATOR CRITICAL
Ventura County Emergency Medical Services administrator Steve Carroll said 50 people were hurt in the Oxnard incident, 28 of whom were transported to hospitals.
Among the most seriously injured was the train’s operator, who was in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Ventura County Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Sheila Murphy said.
The operator, who has not been publicly identified, suffered extensive chest injuries affecting his heart and lungs but was able to communicate with doctors, Murphy said.
National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt said investigators would examine the train’s recorders and seek to determine if crossing arms and bells were functioning properly.
“We are concerned with grade crossing accidents. We intend to use this accident and others to learn from it so that we can keep it from happening again,” Sumwalt said.
The incident took place where the Metrolink tracks cross busy Rice Avenue in Oxnard, a street used by a steady stream of big rigs and farm trucks and lined with warehouses and farmland.
“It is a very dangerous crossing,” said Rafael Lemus, who works down the street from the crash site. “The lights come on too late before the trains come. It is not safe.”
A Ventura County Medical Center spokeswoman said the hospital had received nine victims, three of whom were listed in critical condition.
Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center received six patients with minor injuries such as back, leg or shoulder pain, said spokeswoman Kris Carraway. St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in nearby Camarillo was treating two patients for minor injuries, a spokeswoman said.
The wreck triggered major delays to Metrolink lines across Ventura County, forcing commuters onto buses. Oxnard is an affluent coastal city of some 200,000 about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
In 2008, a crowded Metrolink commuter train plowed into a Union Pacific locomotive in Chatsworth, California, killing 25 people and injuring 135 in an accident officials blamed on the commuter train engineer’s failure to stop at a red light.
In 2005 a Metrolink train struck a sport utility vehicle parked on the tracks in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, killing 11 people and injuring 180.
(Reporting by Michael Fleeman in Oxnard, Laila Kearney, Barbara Goldberg and James Dalgleish in New York, Rory Carroll in San Francisco, Eric Johnson in Seattle and Eric Kelsey and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Bill Trott and James Dalgleish)