Category Archives: AMTRAK

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.

PHILADELPHIA DERAILMENT: Deadly Amtrak wreck blamed on distracted engineer

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate

Deadly Amtrak wreck blamed on distracted engineer

Associated Press Published 3:12 pm, Tuesday, May 17, 2016

WASHINGTON — The speeding Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia last year, killing eight people, most likely ran off the rails because the engineer was distracted by word of a nearby commuter train getting hit by a rock, federal investigators concluded Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board also put some of the blame on the railroad industry’s decades-long delay in installing Positive Train Control, equipment that can automatically slow trains that are going over the speed limit.

Engineer Brandon Bostian was apparently so focused on the rock-throwing he heard about over the radio that he lost track of where he was and accelerated full-throttle to 106 mph as he went into a sharp curve with a 50 mph limit, investigators said at an NTSB hearing convened to pinpoint the cause of the May 12, 2015, tragedy. About 200 people aboard the Washington-to-New York train were injured.

“He went, in a matter of seconds, from distraction to disaster,” NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said.

Bostian, who has been suspended without pay since the crash for speeding, did not attend the hearing. He and his lawyer did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment.

Had Positive Train Control been in use along the stretch of track, “we would not be here today,” said Ted Turpin, an NTSB investigator.

“Unless PTC is implemented soon,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart warned, “I’m very concerned that we’re going to be back in this room again, hearing investigators detail how technology that we have recommended for more than 45 years could have prevented yet another fatal rail accident.”

Amtrak noted that Positive Train Control is already in place on most of its portion of the Northeast Corridor and that it has also installed inward-facing video cameras on locomotives.

The problem of people throwing rocks at trains is so common that train crews have a term for it: “getting rocked.” But it is a danger railroads are almost powerless to stop. No one was ever arrested in the rock-throwing in Philadelphia.

Investigators said they believe Bostian was accelerating because he thought he had already passed the sharp Frankford Junction curve. After the curve, the tracks open up into a straightaway where the speed limit is 110 mph.

During the investigation, authorities ruled out cell phone use on Bostian’s part, as well as drugs or alcohol.

Amtrak derailment raises safety, track replacement concerns

Repost from the Kansas City Star, Editorial Board

Amtrak derailment raises safety, track replacement concerns

By Lee Judge, March 20, 2016 10:00 AM

• The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident near Cimarron, Kan.
• A cattle feed truck, which struck the rails, caused unreported damage to the railroad track

An Amtrak train derailed in southwest Kansas early March 14, injuring multiple people who were transferred to hospitals in Garden City and Dodge City, according to a release from Amtrak. The Amtrak train carrying 131 passengers derailed in rural Kansas moments after an engineer noticed a significant bend in a rail and applied the emergency brakes, an official said.
An Amtrak train derailed in southwest Kansas early March 14, injuring multiple people who were transferred to hospitals in Garden City and Dodge City, according to a release from Amtrak. The Amtrak train carrying 131 passengers derailed in rural Kansas moments after an engineer noticed a significant bend in a rail and applied the emergency brakes, an official said. Oliver Morrison The Associated Press

When people step aboard any Amtrak passenger train they should expect to arrive at their destination safely. However, that wasn’t the case last week when the Los Angeles to Chicago Southwest Chief derailed near Cimarron, Kan., injuring more than 30 people.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the condition of the track. An NTSB spokesman said it appeared a cattle feed truck that struck the rails shifted the track about 12 to 14 inches. Why such damage wasn’t reported immediately is mind-boggling. A notification could have prevented the Amtrak accident and what may amount to as much as $3 million in damage to the train.

The train derailed shortly after midnight March 14 after the engineer noticed a significant bend in the rail and applied the emergency brake. Eight cars derailed about 20 miles west of Dodge City.

The train with two locomotives and 10 cars had 131 passengers and 14 crew members. At least 32 people were injured, two critically, in the derailment on a section of BNSF-owned track between Dodge City and Garden City.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau reported that parts of the track in western Kansas had deteriorated so much that Amtrak was close to reducing train speeds in some locations from 60 mph to 30 mph.

Going slower may have been safer for that train and its passengers but far from efficient. Garden City, in a 2014 federal grant application, described the degraded condition of the track, noting that “much of the rail is 30 percent past its normal useful life but still in generally good condition for salvage.”

Garden City applied for a TIGER grant, which stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, begun in 2009 during President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus.

Joe Boardman, president and chief executive officer of Amtrak, said last week that millions of dollars in grant money in 2014, 2015 and 2016 would replace close to 160 miles of older, bolted rail with new, continuously welded track, enabling trains to travel more smoothly and at higher speeds. About 40 percent of the funding comes from state and local governments and BNSF.

Operators of cattle feed trucks and other vehicles must be more careful at train crossings and certainly be compelled to report damage. Beyond that, the condition of tracks all over the country remains a safety concern.

Derailments of trains carrying crude oil gained a lot of attention in the last year with spills damaging the environment and fires forcing the evacuation of area communities. New track standards were put in place along with improved tank cars.

Also, between 2018 and 2020, most railroads expect to start using positive train control, which depends on wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains in danger of colliding or derailing.

It’s all to make freight and passenger rail service safer and more efficient. Despite the Kansas derailment and investigation, BNSF restored the track last week, and the Southwest Chief was back running two trains a day.

Ensuring that people and freight move safely, however, has to remain the highest priority.

Train slams into stalled RV in Berkeley, driver injured

Repost from SFGate
[Editor:  Imagine if it was an oil train headed for San Luis Obispo.  – RS]

Train slams into stalled RV in Berkeley, driver injured

By Jenna Lyons, March 3, 2016 9:14 pm
The driver of an RV was seriously injured in the aftermath of a collision with an Amtrak train in Berkeley Thursday evening, transportation officials said.
The driver of an RV was seriously injured in the aftermath of a collision with an Amtrak train in Berkeley Thursday evening, transportation officials said.

An Amtrak train struck a stalled RV on tracks in Berkeley Thursday evening, seriously injuring the RV’s driver, who officials said had already left the trailer but was hurt in the aftermath of the collision.

Train number 718, the San Joaquin, had 73 passengers on board when it struck the unoccupied vehicle, Amtrak officials said. No passengers or crew members reported injuries.

Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Francisco Castillo, Jr. said the driver of the RV, who was not identified, left the vehicle after it started stalling at the tracks on Bancroft Way in Berkeley.

The train collided with the RV about 6:10 p.m., while the impact pushed the trailer in the driver’s direction, Castillo said.

“When the Amtrak train collided with the RV, the vehicle spun and hit the driver,” he said.

The driver was taken to Highland Hospital in Oakland with serious injuries, Castillo said.

Jenna Lyons is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.