Category Archives: Passenger service

Capitol Corridor passenger trains outfitted with new safety braking system

Repost from the Sacramento Bee
[Editor: note that Capitol Corridor is upgraded, but other Union Pacific and AMTRAK systems are not yet complete.  The railroads continue to drag their heels.  – R.S.]

Capitol Corridor passenger trains just got the biggest safety upgrade in a century

By Tony Bizjak, December 26, 2018 03:00 AM
Apologies for the ads that precede this video…

Two years ago an Amtrak Capitol Corridor passenger train outside Sacramento jolted so violently that passengers thought it would derail.

The engineer had mistakenly sped at double the limit through a track crossover. Coffees, laptops and some bodies went flying. Two people were slightly injured. Ultimately, two train operators were disciplined. But the human-error incident left several passengers saying they wondered if rail officials were really focused on safety.

Now, corridor train officials say, an incident like that is unlikely to happen again.

As of this fall, all trains on the 170-mile Capitol Corridor system have been equipped with a computer system that will take control of the train from the engineer if the engineer fails to heed speed or other warnings.

The system, called Positive Train Control (PTC), gives the engineer an auditory countdown to act if danger looms. If the train is headed toward a curve at too high a speed, for instance, the system will warn the engineer. If the engineer fails to take remedial action in a timely fashion, the computer takes control and stops the train.

Amtrak, which operates the Capitol Corridor line, is one of 41 railroads that have been mandated by the federal government to install the system.

Federal Railroad Administration chief Ronald Batory, speaking recently to Congress, called PTC “the most fundamental change in rail safety technology since the introduction of Automatic Train Control in the 1920s.”

Davis City Councilman Lucas Frerichs, the Capitol Corridor board chairman, said the new system is a major step and statement about the importance of passenger safety.

“PTC is the gold standard of rail safety, and its implementation on the Capitol Corridor fleet that carried a record 1.7 million passengers last year is a huge milestone,” Frerichs said.

The implementation period since October, however, has been suffering from multiple technology glitches. Numerous trains have been delayed because of technical difficulties with the PTC system, Capitol Corridor chief David Kutrosky said.

He said crews have typically been able to correct the problems in a few minutes in most cases, and the number of issues is on the decline.

“With any new technology, it just doesn’t work to full specifications on day one,” Kutrosky said. “You need to work through the systems. We knew there would be some delays. The delays are trending downward.”

Kutrosky said the PTC system has not yet had to step in to take over control of a train.

Capitol Corridor is among the first rail lines in the country to have its system fully up and running.

The federal government first mandated the PTC system for major railroads after a Metrolink passenger train engineer became distracted by text messages on his cell phone, causing the train to go through a red signal and crash head-on into a freight train. The 2008 crash killed 25.

Railroads have been slow to install the system, complaining it is complicated and costly. The federal government has repeatedly extended the deadline for railroads to have the system fully up, tested and running. The initial deadline of 2015 was first extended to the end of 2018, but that deadline, too, was extended for some railroads to 2020.

Union Pacific, the largest rail track owner and freight shipper in Northern California, has informed the federal government it will not be finished getting the system tested and fully operational by the end of this month, and is requesting an extension to 2020.

Although the Capitol Corridor train system has finished its PTC installation and testing, Amtrak overall will not meet the Dec. 31 deadline and has requested an extension to 2020.

Critics, including some members of Congress, say the railroads are dragging their heels and the federal government is complicit in letting them get away with it.

Experts say several recent fatal crashes likely would have been avoided if PTC had been fully in place and operating nationally.

In December of 2017, three people were killed and dozens injured when an Amtrak train in Washington sped at twice the speed limit through a turn and derailed onto Interstate 5. In February, an Amtrak train ran head-on into a freight train in South Carolina, killing two and injuring 100.

The system has limitations, rail officials say. While the computers know what speeds to go, as well as whether the train is on the correct track, the system cannot detect whether a person, car or other object is on the tracks ahead.

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    Train derailment caused by track problem Metro knew about in July

    Repost from Fox5 Washington DC

    Metro knew about track problem in July

    By Marina Marraco, Aug 13 2015 10:18AM EDT

    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.

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      BART can now buy clean energy from alternate suppliers

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

      BART gets go-ahead to buy clean energy directly

      By Melody Gutierrez, August 7, 2015 6:44pm

      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.

      SB502 passed the Senate and Assembly unanimously.

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        Derailment fallout: suspended passenger service

        Repost from Railway Age

        Via Rail pondering alternative Ontario routing for suspended Canadian

        By  David Thomas, Contributing Editor, March 20, 2015

        After months of late arrivals due to track congestion on CN’s northern Ontario main line, compounded by slow orders arising from CN’s efforts to recover from two tar sands oil train explosions, Via Rail is examining an alternative routing for the Canadian, the continent’s last classic streamliner, originally Canadian Pacific’s premier luxury passenger train.

        Via suspended Canadian service between Winnipeg and Toronto March 11, citing the impossibility of maintaining schedules as CN dealt with the oil train mishaps near Gogama.

        One option is to shift to CP trackage between Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Sudbury, Ontario, something Via Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano hinted at last November during an interview with Railway Age. The motive, he said then, would be to provide passengers with a more scenic route closer to the Great Lakes, while at the same time serving more communities.

        The imperative now is simply to get the train running again before the summer tourism season.

        A contract would have to be negotiated with CP, and Via’s engineers would need to be qualified on CP track and operations, something that could take up to two months. Via will consider next week whether it can restore northern Ontario service over CN tracks, either indefinitely or pending a move to CP.

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