Truck Driver Ignored Warning Gates Before Crash

February 22, 2018

An on-board camera has shown that the garbage truck that was struck by an Amtrak special on Jan. 31, had entered a grade crossing after the crossing gates had gone down.

The National Transportation Safety Board said this week that the forward-facing camera showed that as the crossing came into view, the gates were down and the garbage truck was on the tracks at the grade crossing.

The NTSB said that witnesses to the crash reported the truck had entered the crossing after the gates were down at the crossing near Crozet, Virginia.

The special was carrying Republican members of Congress to an annual political retreat at the Greenbrier resort hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

A passenger in the truck was killed and another suffered serious injuries. The truck driver came away with minor injuries.

Three Amtrak crew members and three passengers also suffered minor injuries.

The preliminary NTSB report said that the crossing has advance warning signs and pavement markings on its approach. It is equipped with crossbuck signs, warning lights, bells and gates.

The collision caused the front axle of the lead P42DC locomotive to derail, although it remained upright.

The NTSB will later release a finding of probable cause and issue safety recommendations.

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NCDOT Locomotives Certified by EPA

February 22, 2018

A passenger locomotive owned by the North Carolina Department of Transportation  has been certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection  Agency as an emissions-reduction system.

It uses a technology known as blended after-treatment system, which uses catalytic reduction to chemically remove diesel engine emission pollutants from the locomotive’s exhaust before it’s released into the air.

The system is designed to reduce four diesel exhaust pollutants: nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter.

In a news release, NCDOT said the EPA has determined that all four can cause chronic negative health effects, such as heart and lung disease.

The work on the locomotive was done by Rail Propulsion Systems of California. The company developed the system for use on passenger locomotives.

NCDOT’s rail division collaborated with Rail Propulsion Systems for the past two years to install and test BATS’ functionality.

NCDOT is the first U.S. rail agency to demonstrate the technology on an in-service passenger locomotive.

The EPA certification will enable NCDOT to pursue state and federal grant opportunities to retrofit BATS onto its full fleet of locomotives that are assigned to Amtrak trains using the Piedmont route between Raleigh and Charlotte.

The Politics of PTC

February 21, 2018

Much has been said during the past two months about positive train control, but one of the more interesting comments came from Bennett Levin, the owner of a pair of E8A locomotives painted in the livery of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Levin told Trains magazine that he couldn’t afford the six-figure cost per unit to outfit his locomotives with a PTC device. Instead, he’ll probably sideline them.

Referring to a 2008 federal law that mandates PTC on many railroad routes, Levin described the requirement as “unfortunate and untimely” and suggested the requirement might not exist had a Metrolink commuter train engineer been doing his job instead of texting on his cell phone in the minutes before his train ran past a red signal and crashed head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Los Angeles, an incident that left 25 dead.

Levin’s comments probably reflect the thinking of others in the railroad industry but it would not be good public relations, let alone good politics, for them to make similar comments.

The Association of American Railroads recently held a press briefing in which it fired an opening salvo on behalf of railroads likely to ask the Federal Railroad Administration for an extension of time to meet the PTC mandate.

The AAR expressed confidence that U.S. railroads will comply with the PTC deadline of
Dec. 31, but an AAR official later said it won’t be known until summer which railroads might seek an extension of time to install PTC.

Those requests for more time might not sit well with some at the FRA, the U.S. Department of Transportation or Congress.

The railroad trade group also was laying the groundwork for future fights concerning PTC by expressing concern that the FRA will micromanage PTC systems once they are in place and operating.

That concern is not without merit given the statements that have been coming virtually nonstop from the National Transportation Safety Board and Congress in the wake of three high profile accidents since December involving Amtrak trains that resulted in fatalities.

In two of those, the NTSB has said that had PTC been operating at the time, the accident likely would have been avoided.

Given what we know about the facts of those three Amtrak collisions, human error was at the root of all of them. The implication is that in at least two of those accidents technology could have overcome human foibles.

Perhaps, but the AAR also made the point during that news conference that PTC is not the magic bullet for rail safety that many are making it out to be. AAR Senior Vice President for Safety and Operations Mike Rush cited a 2005 study that found only 4 percent of mainline accidents could have been prevented by PTC.

Of course safety is paramount advocates will counter that one life lost is one too many.

It is hard to argue against that, yet far more people lose their lives in highway accidents than are killed in railroad accidents and we don’t see a movement to install some form of PTC on highways, the move toward self-driving vehicles notwithstanding.

Most highway fatalities don’t make the national news, only the local news and even then they might not get that much attention, let alone the type of lasting attention needed to prompt policy makers into action.

Society has become numbed by the high number of road fatalities, but expects the government to do something about accidents involving public transportation.

Make no mistake about it. Implementation of PTC is as much a political issue as it is a safety issue.

People who own railroad companies and, for that matter, airline companies, trucking companies, water transportation companies, bus companies, et. al, don’t like being told how to run their business. They don’t like being pushed around by government regulators and policy makers.

During the AAR news conference, Rush tried to make the case that PTC would likely have come about anyway without the government mandate.

He said the industry has spent decades researching PTC and conducted trials, one of which ended in failure.

But all of that got short circuited by the 2008 government mandate. Since then, the railroad industry has invested $10 billion in PTC and figures to spend millions if not billions more in maintaining it.

We’ll never know what the railroad industry would have come up with had it been left to its own devices in developing PTC. Nor will we ever know how many railroads would have installed PTC voluntarily on how much of their networks.

What we do know is that so long as public transportation conveyances continue to have accidents that leave people dead, there will continue to be government regulators and private citizen lobby groups trying to push the transportation industry around by telling them what to do to make travel safer.

Akron Library to Show Film About Pullman Porters

February 21, 2018

A documentary film about the history of Pullman porters will be shown at the Akron Public Library at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24.

The event is being held in cooperation with the Akron Railroad Club. ARRC President Craig Sanders will introduce the film by presenting an overview of the history of railroad sleeping cars and the trains that served Akron that carried them.

That presentation will include historical and contemporary images of sleepers.

The documentary is based on the book Rising From The Rails: Pullman Porters and the Making of the Black Middle Class by Larry Tye.

The book describes how George M. Pullman came to use almost exclusively black men to serve passengers riding his sleeping cars.

The job was arduous, yet many men saw it as preferable to working in the fields or factories. For several decades, being a Pullman porter was one of the best-paying jobs an African-American man would have.

Most of the film is built around interviews with Tye and former porters and members of their families.

They tell poignant tales of how they persevered in the face over racism and fought for years to organize a union to  bargain for better wages and working conditions.

The event is free and will be held in the auditorium of the main library at 60 S. High Street in downtown Akron. Free parking is available in the adjacent parking garage on High Street.

Comments Sought on Downeaster Expansion

February 20, 2018

The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority is seeking public comment regarding a proposed seasonal weekend expansion of Amtrak Downeaster service to Rockland this summer.

The Rail Authority is scheduled to meet on Feb. 26 and may make a decision then about the proposed expansion.

Comments can be address by email to Patricia Quinn, executive director, at Patricia@nnepra.com.

The expansion would bring service to Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland over a line that has not seen passenger service since the Maine Eastern Railroad ended operations in 2016.

The Rail Authority oversees the Downeastern service between Maine and Boston, managing the budget, contracts, promotion, and customer services associated with it.

Amtrak operates the trains under a 20-year agreement using tracks of the Pan Am Railways and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The Maine Department of Transportation owns the tracks between Brunswick and Rockland. The Central Maine and Quebec Railroad provides freight service.

Heartland Flyer Route PTC Compliant

February 20, 2018

Tracks used by Amtrak’s Oklahoma City-Fort Worth, Texas, Heartland Flyer are in compliance with federal law mandating installation of a positive train control system by the end of 2018.

A spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said the BNSF rails used by the Flyer has a PTC system.

She made the comment in wake of testimony to Congress by Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson that passenger train service might be suspended on tracks that are not compliant with the PTC mandate.

Amtrak said it has PTC in place on tracks it owns in the Northeast and in Michigan.

Pacific Surfliner Ticket Policy Changes

February 20, 2018

Amtrak has changed its policy governing the use of 10-ride tickets on Pacific Surfliner trains. The validity period for 10-ride ticket for the Pacific Surfliners will be extended from 45 days to 60 days.

The change will apply to 10-ride tickets issued on or after Feb. 15, 2018, for travel on or after March 1, 2018. Tickets issued prior to Feb. 15 will retain the 45-day validity period.

In an unrelated development involving the Pacific Surfliner route, Amtrak said that it has partnered with Disneyland® Resort to offer special, limited-time savings for Southern California Residents on train travel and theme park admission through May 21, 2018.

Anaheim Resort Transportation provides a connection from the train station to Disneyland from the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center.

Passengers should board ART Route 15 located at Bus Bay No. 12 for a ride to the theme park. The ride is free with a valid train ticket. Participants can travel to ARTIC by train from points throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

For each adult ticket purchased, one free children’s ticket can be issued for those ages 2-12. To redeem, select one “Adult” and one “Child” as your passenger types, and enter promo code V231.

Station Stop in Greewood

February 17, 2018


Greenwood, Mississippi, is one of that places that has intercity rail passenger service because of Amtrak.

When Amtrak began service on May 1, 1971, it had been several years since a scheduled passenger train had halted in Greenwood.

It would remain 24 years before that would occur again. But thanks to a rerouting of the City of New Orleans between Chicago and New Orleans, Greenwood would join the Amtrak network.

No. 59 is shown at Greenwood during its station stop in March 2012.

Yes, Watch Out for the Trains

February 16, 2018

The Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak have been working to boost train speeds on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, particularly on track in Michigan, that both entities own.

MDOT owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Dearborn and over the past couple of summers has sponsored track work designed to enable faster running.

One small indicator of that work is this sign in Chelsea, Michigan, located next to the former Michigan Central station, which is now owned by a local historical society.

Getting Amtrak here at 80 mph or any speed remains on my “to do” list for 2018. There is double track because there is a passing siding here.

Chelsea, located between Ann Arbor and Jackson, is not a stop for Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains, but it was a stop for the Michigan Executive commuter train that Amtrak operated through Jan. 13, 1984, when the state ended its funding of the service.

Michigan transportation officials and rail passenger advocates have been trying to resume commuter rail service ever since.

House Committee Lays Down Law on PTC Laggards

February 16, 2018

The railroad industry was put on notice Thursday that it will meet the Dec. 31 deadline to install positive train control or suffer the consequences.

The message was given by members of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a hearing to review progress on implementing PTC systems.

“The American public is tired of excuses. It’s life-saving technology, but it’s also very complex. We want to get it done quickly, by this deadline, but we also want to get it done right,” said Jeff Denham of California and chairman of the T&I subcommittee that oversees railroads.

Presiding over the hearing, Denham said there have been too many deaths that PTC could have prevented.

“It’s not going to solve all of our challenges but as all in the industry agree, it moves our industry to the next level,” Denham said.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, said the committee was trying to be reasonable, noting that Congress agreed nearly three years ago to extend the original December 2015 deadline to December 2018.

“But 2018 is real and there is not a single person [on the committee] who’s going to quietly accept the next accident after that deadline,” he said.

The two-hour hearing reviewed technological and policy issues that the railroad industry faces in implementing PTC.

Under prodding from committee members, Federal Railroad Administration Acting Deputy Administrator Juan D. Reyes III said his agency has met with 41 railroads since the first of the year and would soon be making comments on the implementation plans the railroads have submitted.

Denham said that although some carriers have put PTC in place quickly some have yet to begin. “We are well aware there are some that will never get there by the end of the year,” Denham said.

However, some of those who have been slow to respond have not started, have failed thus far to ask for an extension and haven’t sought some of the $31 billion in low-cost Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loans available for PTC implementation.

In particular, committee members from New Jersey and New York were critical of the lack of progress by New Jersey Transit.

Reyes said the FRA has begun fining railroads that had not kept pace with their implementation plans, calling that “a shot across the bow to tell them we’re serious and  . . . we’re going to push them to get this implemented.”

Denham said he supported in principle a bill sponsored by Capuano and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, that would prohibit the FRA from extending PTC deadlines beyond Dec. 31.

“This has gone on for 10 years now. It ought to be very obvious what needs to be done,” Denham said. “Safety is first in all of our transportation, but as of late there have been too many accidents, and we can do better.”