Feb 4, 2018
A big red 20 dollar reflector on a switch target might have prevented it too....
CSX train stopped and unmanned at the time of the incident.
Hand-throw turnout with electric lock circuit, which was disabled due to signal suspension in the area. Only thing that is to be expected to work in a signal suspension are the defect detectors and automatic highway grade crossing protection.
From what I understand, the signal suspension was in place for cutover to PTC.
On CSX, 99.8% of the time the conductor is responsible for handling switches. If there were an immediate need or an emergency, then the engineer would handle the switch. In the case of this signal suspension, there is a form that they would have to fill out, indicating the time the switch was first thrown and last lined back. The crew each initial the form to declare their understanding, and this information is relayed to the dispatcher when the track authority is released.
They would have only had a "track light" lit on their screen, indicating there was occupancy, an open switch, broken rail or some other issue with the track. There is no specific indication in this case. There would have been a restrictive signal displayed at the signal nearest the switch for the crew, and PTC would have indicated an open switch.
Jim, you are absolutely correct regarding PTC. It is a computer system, and as such relies solely on the data that are available to it. If a section of the signalling and control system has been disabled, then the data from that section are not available to the PTC computers. Regardless of how wonderful our politicians and talking heads think the PTC panacea is.
Sorry for my rant, but computers were my business since 1957, and I got fed up with the uninformed calling them "Brains". They are only as smart and perceptive as was contained in the data provided by fallible and inattentive humans. We always said that they always obeyed the nut at the terminal.
Rick, thank you for your explanations. They are from knowledge and experience, rather than deductions or speculations.
The misinformation regarding this incident had my local news calling it an oil train due to the spilled fuel; the photos available at the stime still showed trilevel autoracks, though.... At least 2 locos' worth of fuel would have been released in this tragedy. The lead freight loco involved was completely demolished; even with a lightweight passenger train at speed, there is a boatload of kinetic energy involved.
My thoughts too, went to this incident. I have studied it a lot in my academic ventures.
Thanks for the no-kidding skinny on how the signal/PTC system works.
The media would be better informed if they read this before claiming mastery of the topic.
From what photos I have been able to find, only the Amtrak unit is off rails. The two CSX units, are still essentially on tracks. The lead CSX unit does not seem to have below frame damage, nor does the unit training. So, no fuel spills there, from what is available to we the ignorant public.
The Amtrak unit is of course a mess, on it's side. It looks like this is a GE P42DC. If so, it should have a 2200 gallon tank. This would be where any spill might originate. Of course, minus any fuel consumed since last refilling! Also, the P42DC is supposedly equipped with a tank which helps resist spills..... Anyhow, not the panic stricken 5000 gallons the fearmongers have presented.
So, any spill, while bad for nuts and berries, (and none of us wants to see any sort of spill), would be much less than being reported by Scaremongering Sensationalists, Inc. (Media.) It should have been mitigated quickly, and likely nothing will permanently enter the environment. This is an accident, not a deliberate attempt to harm the birds and bees.
So-called "side bar" stories, such as fuel spill, are a waste of our time. We need to be informed about why this happened. Why two innocent people lost their lives. Why so many more were hurt. This is the "story". Actually I do not want to be told a story. I am not a buffoon. I just want the facts. I am intelligent enough to add it all together. So are all of you reading this post.
... and this today from Emily Smith at WIS TV Columbia:
One of the main issues the NTSB is looking into is why a switch was padlocked, which caused the Amtrak to veer off course.
The padlock caused the train to veer off course?
Yes, didn't you know? Padlocks are very sophisticated nowadays.
Maybe it was a Russian padlock.
The NTSB will get to the bottom of why, but this seems like a pretty simple case of the freight train crew's failure to complete the job. I know when the dispatcher gives track and time-type authority, the crew uses a specific form, and reads back the instructions. How they missed re-lining the main track switch and telling the DS it was done......
Not so simple for me. I have seen and heard that this AMTK was on a siding. What operating authority was this segment of track? CTC? ABS? TWC? Not having a track chart or timetable for this segment of RR I don't know, and neither most opining. Understand, if there is a known signal, outage issue, you should consider each signal as having the most restrictive aspect.
In CTC, if the signal system was declared out of service or suspended, (OOS), there are ways to operate traffic, you can issue Track Warrants (CTC OOS), which unless the switches are tended, spiked and OOS, you can go 49 mph max, not very often is this the case, takes a lot to do this. The D'S can give permission to take dual control switches in hand and line for the intended route, and give verbal authority yo enter limits. It can get complicated every situation a little different.
Otherwise you should be at restricted speed (RS) meaning prepared to stop at switches. You can also issue Track and Time (T&T) which also requires you to operate at RS, and to be able to stop short of about anything, switches, derails and such. It is about the same in ABS and TWC, each operating authority has its own set of rules that is designed to prevent this in ABS and TWC territory, TWC/ABS can have switch point indicators that do not convey authority to occupy a segment of track but show switch alignment. That is why these operating rules are written in blood.
Another wrinkle, is if other trains or MW are involved, all has to be communicated that everyone has the same authority, and no one can make a move until everyone that holds T&T or equivalent authority confirms and agrees. I don't know, and have no idea, what kind of mandatory directives were given. It needs to be said that the CSX crew may have went DOL, and was off the train for hours of service (DOL). Dont know when CSX DS change shifts either, dont know what information was given or passed to whom, who, or when.
Like Rick says, the only thing you can count on in suspended in OOS limits is defect detectors, whether Hot Box, Shifted Load, High water or other, as they are verbal via radio, separate from authority systems and their messages repeat.
This whole thing has many UN-answered aspects for me. Unless the East Coast operates way different than out here, I am missing something. We have islands of PTC among about 500 mi of CTC RR.
I have seen a few of these type situations during my career. Sadly, I have known a few of my brothers die while in service. I try my best not to speak out of turn, and I am also a Local Chairman. My heart breaks for these crew members that are dead, the engineer told his brother, that he was afraid he would die in a train collision (USA Today), the conductor just bought a house (USA Today), these guys had no "ill will" or Mal-intent fore sure.
Years ago we had 2 trains operating in different direction in multiple MT, CTC territory all on clear (green ) signals, only to have one lined into the side of the other at a crossover because of a relay wired wrong. Again not saying anyone is right or wrong here, we just need to be patient and the well, approved truth will come out. Usually as long as the carriers have someone to blame.
After all thats been said before, we have at this point no idea why that CSX crew if not "contractor for switching" didn't line the switch normal.
The CSX crew may have been DOL and not allowed to perform any type of service. Today's RRing they want you on duty 12hrs, then a van ride if you are lucky. Not uncommon for me to have crews, not technically on duty, but no rest for 18-20 hours. Not trying to be a jerk here but people that don't know the industry sometimes seem to ally themselves in a different direction. The CSX crew could be completely at fault. I can tell you, that I don't know enough, to make any determination at this point.
There will be a determination IMHO, there were several different levels of failure, that led to this catastrophic event. I wont throw anyone under the bus just yet.
Thank you for your explanation. You shed some light on the question I had, with the signals OOS I was wondering why AMTK wasn't running at RS. I've read many NTSB accident reports and know the questions will get answered in time.
I work in a different industry but it is also very public safety driven.
A past director would say "people make mistakes, organizations have events".
The Jacksonville Business Journal has reported that the Star stopped five miles north of the site of the derailment and per procedure in signal outages, waited for clearance from the Dispatcher. The story says that there was a CSX Conductor at the site who affirmed to the Dispatcher that the switch was properly aligned. Clearance was given and the Star proceeded south.
I don't think the NTSB has confirmed any of this, but if it's true, the story begins to fill in some blank spaces.
This section of railroad is CTC (TC in CSX terms). The signal system was suspended to cut-over to the new PTC system, and trains operated under TWC using the form EC-1 to copy the authorities. Standard general bulletin wording for signal suspensions on CSX state to the effect that all hand-operated switches will be expected to be lined and locked (or spiked) in normal position. Trains operate at P59/F49 unless otherwise restricted.
The siding that was in question here is apparently equipped with electric lock hand throw switches, just like many industry type sidings. For some reason, the crew on the local apparently neglected to line the switch back for the main and reported "clear". Now the questions are, did the crew fill out the Switch Position Awareness Form (SPAF) and report the information on that form to the dispatcher when they released their authority? Did they just merely report "clear" and the dispatcher neglected to request the SPAF info? I'm willing to bet the NTSB and CSX already have the answers to those questions and any others that we have, so we are left to speculate until the "official" report comes out.
The SPAF is a form used in non-signaled or "dark" territory to document the handling of any hand-throw switches that the crew uses in the course of their duties. It contains information as to milepost, switch name, what main track (if multiples), what time the switch was first thrown and when it was last returned to "normal". Both engineer and conductor have to initial the form and all of the information must be given to the dispatcher before the dispatcher can release any track authority given. A signal suspension essentially makes that particular section of railroad "dark". This form was created as a result of the Graniteville, NC NS derailment involving the release of chlorine gas which killed several people.
Thanks Rick for clarifying things. I'd been told of the Form by a friend, but wasn't sure how it was handled.
Rick, I, and probably others, are glad for your input. It helps to increase our knowledge and discussing only facts as they emerge. Thanks
It is so disheartening these things happen, but they do.
I listened to a DS radio communication where the DS gave correct instructions in TWC, but the crew repeated wrong info back, DS said that is correct. And 4 guys fate were sealed, all 4 died in a head on in the middle of the night. Thats all it takes just like Rick said the one little piece of info not passed or heard can lead up to these type things.
I just feel bad for everyone involved.
Yes, me too. If indeed a CSX employee failed in their duty, my heart breaks for them. They're walking in a dark and lonely state of despair that most people can't begin to imagine.