Crockett: Amtrak train slams into unoccupied car; no injuries
By Tom Lochner, 11/25/2015 11:54:27 PM PST
CROCKETT — No one was injured Wednesday when an Amtrak Capitol Corridor train with 224 passengers on board slammed into an unoccupied car, an Amtrak official said.
The crash occurred at 7:07 p.m. near the intersection of Loring and Rolph avenues. The train, which was headed from Sacramento to San Jose, was on its way again at 8:57 p.m., said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham.
A nearby train headed in the opposite direction was delayed for a similar length of time as the car was removed from the tracks, Graham said. Three other trains were delayed for shorter periods.
No further information was available late Wednesday.
CULBERTSON, Mont. — Five train derailments have occurred in less than two years in the northeastern Montana County where crews continue cleaning up after last week’s oil train derailment.
In addition to the two train derailments that occurred last week within a 20-mile stretch of Roosevelt County, two railcars also derailed at Culbertson in February, according to the Federal Railroad Administration database, which is updated through April.
The cause of that incident, which did not cause injuries or release of hazardous material, was attributed to human error, according to information submitted to the FRA.
The area also had two train derailments in 2014, including the derailment of two Amtrak cars in April of that year in the neighboring community of Bainville.
Two people were hurt in the derailment, which caused more than $100,000 in damage to Amtrak equipment and nearly $500,000 in damage to the track, the FRA database shows.
The cause that derailment is listed as “track roadbed settled or soft,” according to information submitted to the FRA.
The other 2014 incident, which involved one railcar that derailed in December at Culbertson, was attributed to a broken wheel, the FRA database shows.
The entire state of Montana had 19 train derailments in 2014, the FRA information shows.
Last Tuesday, nine railcars derailed near Blair, Mont., damaging about 1 mile of track. The cause remains under investigation.
BNSF Railway inspects the track in that area at least four times per week, spokesman Matt Jones said.
The FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration continued collecting evidence Monday to investigate the cause of Thursday’s derailment involving 22 oil tankers. Four of the derailed tank cars leaked oil, the FRA said, and spilled an estimated 35,000 gallons of oil.
The train was not speeding at the time it derailed, an FRA spokesman said. It was traveling 44 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone, the spokesman said.
BNSF environmental specialists continue to clean up at the site. Oil will be removed from the remaining tank cars in the next several days, and the cars will be removed after that, Jones said.
Crews are excavating contaminated soil, said Daniel Kenney, enforcement specialist with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which is monitoring the cleanup. The spill was not reported to have contaminated any water sources and has not threatened human health, Kenney said.
The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources confirmed Monday that Statoil, the company that owns the oil that was on the train, is in compliance with the state’s oil conditioning order.
The order, which took effect in April, aims to reduce the volatility of Bakken crude oil.
Statoil was meeting the order by operating its equipment at specific temperatures and pressures, said Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter. Companies also can comply by submitting vapor pressure tests to the state.
The train with was loaded by Savage Services in Trenton, N.D., and headed to Anacortes, Wash., the FRA said.
Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for Savage Services, said Monday the railcar inspection protocols at the Trenton terminal are consistent with FRA and BNSF requirements.
Two months since Amtrak 188 derailed, what’s changed and why big problems remain: ‘It’s actually cheaper to kill people’
By Anna Orso, July 7, 2015, 9:00 am
In the two months since Amtrak 188 derailed in Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring hundreds, the train giant has said that it’s making a number of changes to ensure better railroad safety. But is it really doing much beyond what it was already supposed to before the crash?
That depends on who you ask. Amtrak says it’s made a number of technological changes in wake of the crash to improve safety features. However, that admission came after the National Transportation Safety Board basically said the crash could have been prevented if Amtrak had it’s stuff together.
The major feature on railroad safety advocates’ list for decades is a way to automatically slow down trains on certain segments of track. Called Positive Train Control technology, federal regulators had mandated that all passenger train companies have it installed by the end of this year. The NTSB said this would have prevented the train, operated by engineer Brandon Bostian, from hitting 106 mph as it flew around a rated-for-50-mph curve in Philly.
Amtrak will be done installing PTC by the end of December, thus making the deadline and becoming the first “Class 1″ railroad company to do so. Spokesman Craig Schulz says the company is in the process of putting in “Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement Systems” to ensure trains are operated at safe speeds along the Northeast Corridor, spending more than $110 million since 2008 to install PTC.
The company also is quick to point out that in the immediate aftermath of the crash, it installed (read: fixed) a “code change point” in the signal system on the eastbound tracks just west of the Frankford Curve, meaning that trains traveling east from Philadelphia to New York approach the curve at 45 mph in accordance with the speed limit there. They’re not so quick to point out that this technology was previously required.
Amtrak, according to Schulz, has also committed to installing inward-facing video cameras in its fleet of ACS-64 locomotives in service on the Northeast Corridor by the end of this year and will comply with additional Federal Railroad Administration regulations released earlier this year. Cameras like this would have shown what, for instance, Bostian was doing as the train hit the curve at nearly double the recommended speed.
But the lawyers circling this case say these actions are a day late and a dollar short.
Bob Pottroff, a Kansas-based attorney who’s a railroad safety expert, is consulting with several of the personal injury lawyers who are representing victims in lawsuits against Amtrak and other parties. A number of those court actions have already been filed, including two of behalf of families whose loved ones were killed in the crash.
It’s expected the lawsuits against Amtrak will be consolidated, and the company will only be liable for a total of $200 million because of a cap put in place by Congress in 1997. This means that no matter how many people are killed or injured in a train crash, Amtrak will never be asked to pay up more than $200 million in total.
Pottroff thinks removing this cap would be the best way to get large railroad companies to stop dragging their feet on installing new and better technologies that he advocates should have been installed years ago.
“If you really want to scare the hell out of the railroad industry, the first thing to do is remove the damage cap,” he said. “They’re saying ‘we’re never going to have to pay more than $200 million,’ so any project that costs more doesn’t make sense.
“The failing state of our railroad infrastructure would probably cost closer to $200 billion to fix. It’s actually cheaper to kill people.”
And for Amtrak, someone has to be concerned about saving money. The transportation giant is staring down potentially massive cuts to its federal funding, after $270 million in cuts were approved by the House along party lines right after the crash. Democrats and safety advocates have rallied against slashing of funding.
Meanwhile, Amtrak is still focused on making train trips — especially along the Northeast Corridor which had 11.6 million riders in fiscal year 2014 — faster. Slowing down trains when they go around curves would counter those goals.
Pottroff said his fear is that Amtrak can make promises in wake of accidents, but he says the FRA hasn’t set up penalties for what could happen if the company doesn’t follow through with regulations in a timely manner. He says there aren’t any checks on the company.
“Nothing really has changed,” he said. “Until the FRA grows some teeth, they’re going to be a mouthpiece. We will go on hiding the ball on the real causes of problems until we have government oversight that is effective.”
Most Commuter Rails Won’t Meet Deadline For Mandated Safety Systems
By David Schaper, June 03, 2015 3:48 AM ET
Many investigators say Positive Train Control (PTC), an automated safety system, could have prevented last month’s Amtrak train derailment. Amtrak officials have said they will have PTC installed throughout the northeast corridor by the end of this year, which is the deadline mandated by Congress.
But the vast majority of other commuter railroad systems, which provided nearly 500 million rides in 2014, won’t be able to fully implement positive train control for several more years.
On the southern edge of downtown Chicago, a few dozen commuter trains idle as they prepare to take thousands of people from their jobs downtown to their homes in city neighborhoods, and suburbs both near and far. Just behind the tracks is a nondescript, two-story brick building that houses the control center for all these rail lines, and the brains of what will be Metra’s positive train control system.
“Out of this building, we control the Metra electric district, the Rock Island,” Sal Cuevas, chief dispatcher of the control facility. “Over 300, 350, maybe 400 trains out of this facility that we control.”
That’s about half of the commuter trains Metra moves into and out of Chicago each day. Cuevas is tracking their movement, their speed and any potential problems or delays they might encounter, from bad weather to maintenance crews. It’s done in coordination with the 500 freight trains that move through Chicago every day.
Getting positive train control on line won’t make his job any easier, but Cuevas says it will make the movement of all those trains safer.
“Integrating that system with our current train control system will hopefully minimize incidents,” he says.
But that won’t be happening for some time.
Positive Train Control is a system that integrates computer, satellite and radio technologies to slow down or stop a train if the engineer becomes incapacitated or makes a mistake, such as missing a stop signal or going too fast around a curve.
Seven years ago, Congress mandated all freight and passenger railroads implement positive train control by the end of this year. But Metra’s executive director Don Orseno says Chicago’s commuter trains won’t make the deadline, and it won’t even be close.
“Our expectation for Metra to be fully operational is in 2019,” he says. “There’s a lot of reasons why its taking so long. Number one: it wasn’t invented.”
Orseno says railroads have had to develop PTC from scratch and it’s a very complicated system. Information about track conditions, speed limits, the movement of other trains and all kinds of other data has to be downloaded into computers in the railroads’ control centers and in the locomotives.
Those computers have to be able to communicate with every track signal and every other train. So there’s new signaling equipment to install, new radios, new computer hardware and new software to run it all, because these positive train control systems have to be fully inter-operable between all the railroads and all their equipment.
In Chicago, the nation’s busiest rail hub, that’s 1,300 and passenger trains a day.
“We operate the most complex system in the country, there’s no question about that,” Orseno says.
He adds that in mandating positive train control and imposing the December 2015 deadline, Congress provided almost no funding for it.
“The system comes at a very expensive cost,” he says. “We’re looking anywhere from about $350 million for this system, and you’re talking about commuter rail service. There’s not that kind of money out there.”
And it’s not just Chicago’s commuter rail agency that’s struggling to build, fund and implement positive train control. Most commuter trains across the country won’t have it by the end of this year.
“About 29 percent of our systems anticipate they’ll be able to make the goal this year, about seven systems in the country,” says Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.
Melaniphy says some commuter rail agencies will need another three to five years to complete PTC installations because of the scale and complexity of the systems and the resources needed.
“There are only so many people that are experts in this area,” he says. “They can only produce so many of the radio sets that are needed and the spectrum that’s needed to run those radios in a given time.”
Acquiring that radio spectrum for PTC has been especially difficult for commuter railroads.
“Many of the operators will be able to obtain in some segments but maybe not along the entire corridor,” Melaniphy says. “They have to figure out who owns the spectrum in a given corridor and negotiate with them to either sell it or lease it.”
Melaniphy is hoping Congress will allow the FCC to provide commuter railroads with the radio spectrum they need for free. He’s also asking Congress to pay at least some of the estimated $3.5 billion cost of PTC, and extend the deadline to give commuter and freight railroads more time to implement a safety system they all agree they want and need to implement.