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» RAILforum » Passenger Trains » Amtrak » Metrolink head-on crash in Chatsworth (Page 2)

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Author Topic: Metrolink head-on crash in Chatsworth
Railroad Bob
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quote:
Originally posted by George Harris:
Before everyone gets all warm and fuzzy about PTC, remember anything invented by man has the possibility of error. Note Smitty's "it is always a chain of errors that leads up to a crash." All PTC does is put one more link in the chain, which also gives it one more place to break. Increased complexity does not necessarily lead to increased safety. The NTSB and before it the ICC are notorious for recommending expensive mechanical solutions to solve all human error accident, and also while making these recommendations blithely ignoring both examples of their failure and any thought of cost-benefit ratios.

I hear some dolt sounding shocked that they were depending upon a "red light" to tell the engineer what to do. What do you think we all do when driving down a city street?

The "dolts" are certainly abounding in this case, George. Colored lights have worked pretty well for the first century-and-a-half on the railways.
I agree with your views on the PTC system. It requires its own dedicated radio frequency to operate, I believe. Might not work too well in the mountains perhaps, and is incredibly expensive. I am not hearing anything mentioned about the old style tried 'n true ATS (Automatic Train Stop) systems, which use the simple analog inductors on the engine axle and one on the ground. I believe they are used on the Needles and Marceline Subs, to just name a couple of locations. If I recall, in order for Amtrak to have a 90 MPH limit, ATS was required, but I've been out of the loop for a few years now; could have changed. ATS would be a LOT cheaper than PTC, that's for sure...

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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by Geoff M:
[QUOTE]So, playing dumb here, the Metrolink's last signal was about 0.2 miles behind it, at the end of twin track? If both were doing 40mph then the freight would never have even seen his signals drop back to red as the Metrolink entered the section - assuming, of course, the freight did have clear signals to begin with. There is a video on YouTube which demonstrates this happening - if anybody wants the link, PM me as I don't feel it appropriate to post publically, though you can probably find it easily.

Without a signal map and track charts, I do not know where the signals are, but I would say you are probably correct in thinking that the freight had passed the last approach signal before the Metrolink train fouled the circuit. Therefore, he most likely passed a clear signal and would not have seen the next signal before seeing the train itself. Since the freight was on a downhill grade of about 1.0%, he probably was going close to his 40 mph speed limit. The accordioning of the freight cars behind the engines also makes a speed in that range appear to be likely.
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smitty195
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I don't know too much about railroad operations---I'm just a passenger and railfan. But I can pass along what I'm reading in other sources from the experts....the freight train was apparently going approximately 40 MPH and was in dynamic breaking, so there was no slack on the cars they were hauling. Does that make sense?
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delvyrails
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As noted earlier, these severe accidents always are attributed to a number of causes. If any was not present, the accident would not have happened.

Chief among them in my opinion is the habit of expediting freight trains over passenger trains. You'd expect this to be routine on Union Pacific, but not at Chatsworth where a passenger carrier, Metrolink, owns and dispatches the line.

If that eastward UP freight had been safety in the hole at the next siding west of the impact site, this acccident would not have happened.

It's grievously interesting to note that if the commuter train HAD stopped short of the red signal, getting the freight train into the siding there at Chatsworth would have consumed enough time to set the commuter train several minitues behind schedule.

So neither doing the safest course nor keeping its trains running on time seems particularly to have been important for Metrolink in this case.

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Gilbert B Norman
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Even though I'm the "railroad apologist' around here, Mr. Pawson, and normally hold that the Class I industry owes Amtrak little if anything in the way of priority handling, I take a different point of view when a public agency, as you reported, owns and dispatches the rail line in question. For example, in your backyard, NS had best not expect any train operated by either passenger agency (Amtrak or SEPTA) to be "holed' for the convenience of their freight operations.

Even though, to put it mildly, I am "shocked" by the amount of speculation made by official sources (possibly Metrolink's "spin lady' went too far and that is why she is now gone), I believe we must be mindful of Mr. GeoffM's earlier admonishment. I patiently await the NTSB's report which will not likely be a public document for at least one year.

Finally, again regarding Mr. GeoffM's earlier comment, lest we not forget the matter of the hapless security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing incident who was indicted, tried, and convicted by the media, but who was later 'exonerated' by Law Enforcement.

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CG96
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Automatic Train Stop (ATS), with the analogue inductors, is something of an obsolete technology. It is also expensive, with a return on investment such that many RRs have chosen not to install it. I also have my doubts as to, if installed, ATS would make any difference here in actual operation. The trains in question would have passed all wayside indicators before crashing. Cab signals alone would be a much better choice in these situations.

It should also be noted that for any speeds in excess of 80 mph, either cab signals alone, or Automatic Train Control, or ATS, must be used. That has been a US regulation since at least 1951. That regulation was also part of the downfall of many passenger trains, as, rather than install these systems at the time the reg was promulgated, many private RRs simply chose to reduce their speed limits to 79 mph or less.

--------------------
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the Earth all one's life."

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RR4me
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A little ray of sun in this tragic accident, see http://gmy.news.yahoo.com/v/9770647 - this guy has survived two train wrecks. Personally, if he boarded ahead of me, I might think abotu waiting for the next train!
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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by smitty195:
I'm reading in other sources from the experts....the freight train was apparently going approximately 40 MPH and was in dynamic breaking, so there was no slack on the cars they were hauling. Does that make sense?

Yes. It was on a downgrade of about 1.0% and 40 mph is the speed limit at that location.
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George Harris
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quote:
Originally posted by delvyrails:
It's grievously interesting to note that if the commuter train HAD stopped short of the red signal, getting the freight train into the siding there at Chatsworth would have consumed enough time to set the commuter train several minitues behind schedule.

That is simply not true. The cornfield meet was only about 1000 feet beyond the turnout, which means no more than 2 minutes after the time of the collision the freight train would have been clear of the turnout so that the Metrolink train could move. The turnouts to this siding were 40 mph turnouts, which is also the freight train speed limit on the main line in this area.
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George Harris
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There is now some better real information availble:

There was some information from the NTSB that appeared last night. According to another web sites it was:

Train speeds at time of collision: Freight train 25 mph, Metrolink train 42 mph.
Point of impact is determined to be MP 444.123.

Points passed by Metrolink train:
Chatsworth Station is at MP 445.5 (Stop made there.)
Devonshire St. grade crossing is at 445.20.
Chatsworth St. grade crossing is at 444.70.
CP Topanga is at 444.5, with a detector just west (geographically north) of there.

Beyond the point of collision: East portal of Tunnel #28 is 444.00.

The grade is 1.0% uphill for #111 from Lassen St. (MP 445.70), but on the 6º curves the grade drops to 0.76%.

Distance from station stop to collision point is 1.37 miles,
From CP Topanga switch to collision, it is 0.38 miles.
From tunnel portal to collision, it is 0.12 miles.

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delvyrails
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In toy trains, it may be exciting to arrange "running meets" or photo finishes between trains; but done day in and day out on a real railroad, it will eventualy lead to disaster--and it did!

Putting a freight train travelling on a single track and operating in the opposite direction in the space scheduled to be occupied simultaneously or nearly so by a passenger train should be outlawed.

It's a matter of safety and has nothing to do with inter-railroad "politics".

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Pawson, I am quite fearful that the possible NTSB recommendations arising from their investigation of this incident could place so many burdens upon any jurisdiction desiring to start a rail passenger system that such proposal will simply be "scrubbed'.

Somehow, I think implementation of the "recommendations" either by regulatory agency directive or enacted legislation will make the "79 MPH" directive (which I think, but not certain, germinated with the 1946 CB&Q Naperville, IL incident) look like the proverbial Sunday School Picnic.

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Geoff Mayo
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quote:
Originally posted by delvyrails:
Putting a freight train travelling on a single track and operating in the opposite direction in the space scheduled to be occupied simultaneously or nearly so by a passenger train should be outlawed.

Sorry but that is simply impractical. Firstly, it could equally have been another passenger train coming instead of a freight, so your solution doesn't improve the situation there at all. Secondly, doing this would imply absolute priority to passenger trains with full protection up to and into the next siding - which then leads you to ask the question about what happens at the end of the next siding - in other words, you're just shifting the problem to the next siding instead. No freight would ever be able to move within the vicinity of a passenger train. Thirdly, you could have a case of a passenger train with minor casualties but the freight which it collided with was carrying toxic chemicals which leaked and caused an environmental disaster instead, so again no improvement on the situation.

American - in fact virtually all the world's - signalling works mainly on the principle that trains will stop at an absolute stop signal. Assuming in this case that this is what happened, and it wasn't some other failure, then for whatever reason one of those trains didn't - and there was no protection in place to allow for that. There are various ways of enforcing that, as has already been discussed by others.

After the UK's Clapham Junction accident, it was recommended that Automatic Train Protection be fitted throughout the network. Too expensive. So 20 years later we now have TPWS installed at all controlled (aka absolute stop) signals and selected other high risk signals. Rollout across the entire network took about 3 years IIRC. This consists of an arming loop and a trigger loop set a certain distance apart in the track, and a certain distance before the stop signal. If the train passes the trigger loop after the arming loop within a fixed interval of time then the brakes are applied and the train should come to a stand safely. At the signal itself is another arming and trigger loop right next to each other so anything correctly stopping at the signal and then restarting while still red will get tripped at the signal. Now, I wasn't particularly impressed at this as it was only fitted at certain signals and seemed a cheap and dirty solution, but it does appear to have worked - it has stopped a number of trains that were at risk of colliding.

IF, for example, this was a case of running a red light then TPWS would have prevented this particular accident - but I'm not saying that this was the case, which is up to the investigators to determine. I'm also not saying that TPWS is the solution to this - but the point is that a solution can be provided cheaply (for TPWS the relay circuitry is actually pretty simple and can be cut into existing circuitry using spare contacts. Microprocessor logic is equally simple).

Rules and laws are all good and well but it's the enforcing that is the problem.

Geoff M.

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Geoff M.

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Gilbert B Norman
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While I should properly defer to Mr. GeoffM for further description, allow me to note that Clapham Jct is likely the businest grade X-ing in the world. All traffic from Waterloo, including the line out to my Sister's one-time "pad" in Barnes, as well as the 1960 steam-powered "boat train' for my first visit to the "Mother Country" AND all traffic from Victoria, such as the trains to Gatwick (GTW/EGLW) cross this "diamond".

When I was in railroad Labor Relations, one of my colleagues, was a US Army officer in charge of security on the eve of D-Day at this absolutely vital railroad facility. Evidently Gen. Eisenhower thought, and the Brits accepted, that security there should be in American hands (that is not to belittle the Commonwealth's contribution to the campaign, it is just recognition that most assets that day were American).

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irishchieftain
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quote:
Originally posted by RR4me:

A little ray of sun in this tragic accident, see this article - this guy has survived two train wrecks. Personally, if he boarded ahead of me, I might think about waiting for the next train!

That's why I thought your description in the first sentence of your post was curious. The more superstitious among us would indeed label this fellow a "jinx"...
quote:
George Harris wrote:

Distance from station stop to collision point is 1.37 miles,
From CP Topanga switch to collision, it is 0.38 miles.
From tunnel portal to collision, it is 0.12 miles

That last distance is but 634 feet.
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Geoff Mayo
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quote:
Originally posted by Gilbert B Norman:
[..] Clapham Jn [...] Gatwick (GTW/EGLW) cross this "diamond".

Should really be in another thread but...
LGW/EGKK is Gatwick. Clapham Jn is certainly not a diamond (possibly any more, I can't speak for several decades ago). In fact the two signalling centres that control it (Victoria and Wimbledon) leave most of the signals in auto ("fleeting" in American-speak) during the day. The two signalboxes are completely independent now and one cannot cross from one to another on the level - there are other connections via flyovers and diveunders. There is a poor quality photo at http://www.flickr.com/photos/innesross/220423096/ with Clapham in the top left where the rows of white lights are (no idea who the star of the photo is). I believe this panel is of 1960s vintage.

But it is certainly the busiest station in Britain.

Geoff M.

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Geoff M.

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Henry Kisor
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One of the consequences of the Metrolink crash is that the Los Angeles Times almost immediately created an interactive online database giving personal details about the victims. Read about it here (the story also has a link to the database):

http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=52&aid=150818

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Gilbert B Norman
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Ouch; was I ever mistaken regarding the IATA and the ICAO for Gatwick.

Now I haven't been over since 1986, but at the time the lines from Victoria and those from Waterloo X'd at Clapham at grade with one another. Evidently there has been an infrastructure improvement since them.

The IATA & ICAO airport codes are readilly available through Google; I should have checked.

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George Harris
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LA Times has a 30 page slideshow done by Californai PUC.

http://www.latimes.com/media/acrobat/2008-09/42434650.pdf

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sbalax
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All--

You might want to have a caution before viewing the slide show. There is one that might be disturbing.

Mr. Norman--

You might be interested to know that the buzz in the industry is that the BAA is ready to sell off Gatwick. Continental has already announced plans to pull out in favor of LHR.

Frank in dark and cool SBA

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Henry Kisor
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Here's an interesting take on the accident from a singular source:

http://www.workers.org/2008/us/metrolink_train_wreck_0925/

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. Kisor, apparently "The Daily Worker" lives on.

Mr. SBA Frank; off topic at a railforum (well, but then it appears that more members here than not have traveled overseas; some solely for the purpose of a marathon ride with a Eurailpass), yes "open skies" means that more carriers than UA (as successor to PA), AA (as successor to TW), and BA will serve LHR/EGLL than before. But then there is no restriction pursuant to the open skies treaty on an airport operator from establishing "landing slots', and I would think that LGW/EGKK is not going the way of CGX/KCGX (Meigs field).

With the demise of the "boutique' Trans-Atlantic carriers, such as EOS, Silverside, and whoever, Stansted (STN/EGSS), and Luton (LTN/EGGW) are sort of "dormant' at present. But despite what some here may wish, air transport will continue to be "The Only Way to Cross" (that Mr. Paulshore, is intentionally quoted as it is the title of a book ex libris on Trans-Atlantic sailings). The Queen Mary represents far less market share than does even Amtrak LD in their respective markets.

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notelvis
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My overseas travel, sadly, has been limited to that prescribed by the United States Army and was hardly recreational in nature.

I did have the opportunity to observe first generation US diesels toiling their final days in the Saudi Arabian desert however.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Henry, that article was very interesting. It is amazing how it presented facts as possible facts and then just said the opposite might be true without any documentation as to why that was so.

For instance:
"Metrolink claims its computer showed Train No. 111 going by a stop signal right into an oncoming Union Pacific freight train. (The three Union Pacific crew members were injured but survived.) But the actual signal indication on the tracks could have been different."

And men from Mars "could have" caused the whole thing I guess.

Did we really bomb Yugoslavia?

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Vicki in usually sunny Southern California

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Geoff Mayo
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Slightly odd report. I thought NTSB had jurisdication; PUC is not something I've heard of. The report looked rather amateurish and, as stated, didn't present much evidence to back it up.

As far as I know, the only way they would have known that the Metrolink had passed the signal was if/when the switch became "out of correspondance" (not detected in the position determined by the interlocking). Track circuit occupancy alone is unlikely to have revealed it as the freight was so close to the switch anyway. Lucky for them to survive though with just 4 seconds to react.

It was reported on BBC Radio 2 this morning that "investigators had determined that the engineer had sent a text message one minute before the accident". But I see nothing to back that claim up beyond rumours and speculation.

Geoff M.

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Geoff M.

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HopefulRailUser
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Geoff, it was a local TV station here that became friends with the young men who were communicating with the engineer. And the station proudly keeps bringing that up. At any rate, they have shown the cell phone face with the message and the time of 4:22 pm several times.

However, I suppose that would be the time received. Could it not have been formulated and sent from the stop at the Chatsworth station?

PUC is the Public Utilities Commission here.

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Vicki in usually sunny Southern California

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Gilbert B Norman
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Mr. GeoffM, the NTSB is considered over here to be an efficient agency; they have never been on the wrong end of a "Brownie, your doing a hekkuva job..." moment.

The Metrolink spokesman was obviously out of line; much earlier in the thread you will note I literally fell out of my chair (I was on my own with only my Times to keep me company that Morning) during Breakfast at an upscale hotel in an upscale community when I learned she was being judge and jury in the matter - and convicting her own man at that!!

That a Local agency, the California Public Utilities Commission, "got into it' is likely because it was an intrastate passenger train on which the fatalities occurred. That the UPRR, an interstate carrier, suffered damages exceeding a threshold, is likely the NTSB's direction, absent an invitation from a Local agency, to be afforded jurisdiction in the matter.

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George Harris
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The California Public Utilities Commission is the state agency that regulates railroads along with a lot of other things. Their teeth have been pulled on many of their railroad regualtions due to court decisions that they have been prempted due to the Interstate Commerce clause in the Constitution. Most of these court decision were the result of the PUC attempting to require certain things that the railroad companies considered as excessively onerous, so they took the agency to court and won.

The PUC can be found at www.cpuc.ca.gov/puc/

Their cell phone rule is at docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PUBLISHED/COMMENT_RESOLUTION/91003.htm

Funnily enough, I can not find the slide show on their web site, only on the LA Times site.

After the drive in front of the train accident there was a move to get the PUC to prhibit push mode operation. However, they found that even if they did, it would only apply to Metrolink, Caltrain, and other in state commuter agencies. It could not be enforced against Amtrak which runs push-pull trains all over the state, including the San Diego train that run 90 mph for part of their trips. The rule was opposed by all the commuter agencies that would be affected, so it died a quiet death.

The NTSB has no regulatory authority, but I beleive that they do have the authority to investigate any rail accident anywhere in the US regardless of whether or not the system is classified as being in "interstate commerce". They then make recommendations to all involved parties. Initially the NTSB only investigated aircraft accidents, so their early excursions into the railroad field led to some rather strange and silly looking discussions and recommendations. They still strongly promote PTC or any other form of external automatic control every chance they get. In this, they are really not that far from some of the doings of the old ICC, which would follow up an investigation of an accident in timetable and train order territory with a recommendation for installion of block signals, even if the line only carried a couple of trains a day.

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Henry Kisor
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Very interesting article in today's New York Times about engineer Sanchez:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/us/21engineer.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Sanchez&st=cse&oref=slogin

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Ocala Mike
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That is interesting stuff, especially concerning Mr. Sanchez as a diabetic. I realize his medical file is confidential at this time, but if he was an insulin-dependent diabetic, especially if his blood sugar was diffcult to control (brittle), I find it troubling that he remained in a position where he was responsible for other's lives.

I live with an insulin-dependent diabetic (my wife), and she has lately had trouble keeping her blood sugar within bounds which has resulted in her wrecking the family car twice within the past year (yes, she's grounded now), and her falling and breaking her ankle recently.

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Ocala Mike

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JONATHON
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Wow, I realy hope Rob Sanches is remembered for an Engineer who loved trains and his job and not as just someone who was playing with a cell phone, I text ALOT, all the time, and when I seen the news and they showed the tex massage on the kid's phone it was only about a line or so of words, witch takes only a very short time to write, at 40mph, you can see an aproaching sigal way more than the time required to write that, and whether he WAS texing at the time has yet to be proved, Robs cell phone was never found, nore any real proof that he was using it, even then, and if he was, is that what caused the crash? or just a bad coinsidance?

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Geoff Mayo
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That, Jonathon, is something the investigators will likely determine in the fullness of time. That article raises more possibilities and theories, some of which could well render Mr. Sanchez innocent - or otherwise - hence my admonishment of speculation earlier.

Geoff M.

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Henry Kisor
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Geoff, you are absolutely correct that we should not speculate until NTSB has all the facts in and rules on them.

But we do anyway.

It is human nature to want to know the reasons behind things, and that is why the media tries to find them out as soon as possible. That's demand and supply at work in the information industry.

I guess all we can do is keep a "Not Yet Proven" mindset until it is otherwise.

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City of Miami
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What a sad story, re: NYT. The whole thing, really, but especially the suicide and family reaction. Nothing in life is simple and people are all so very complicated, including each and every other person who died in that crash. Zen teaches that the long concatenation of events is beginingless and endless.
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Ocala Mike
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So what are you saying, City of Miami, that the engineer or maybe just someone on the train was packing bad Karma in his (or her) unchecked baggage? Maybe the TSA could get some dogs, trained in Zen, to sniff that stuff out. Sorry to be so flip, but I am going out on a limb with a prediction that when the truth comes out, it will be revealed that Mr. Sanchez should not have been operating an engine hauling a passenger train due to medical reasons.

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Ocala Mike

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City of Miami
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Mike - Everyone on the train had their karma, i.e. not good or bad, just the inconceivable complex of events that led to each of them being who they are at that moment. Remember the fascinating book of Thornton Wilder on the subject: The Bridge of San Luis Rey? I merely meant to underline the opinion I read elsewhere by those more knowledgeable than I that not one thing caused this tragedy but a series of things, a change in any one of which would have averted the catastrophe.
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Henry Kisor
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There are other ways of saying the same thing:

"A sparrowfart can eventually result in a hurricane." (I believe this is part of chaos theory.)

"Six degrees of Kevin Bacon."

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Henry Kisor
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I'm sorry -- I conflated two sayings: "[as influential] as a sparrowfart in a windstorm" and "the flutter of a butterfly's wing can spawn a hurricane."

Gettin' old and the cliches meld into one another.

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irishchieftain
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I wouldn't regard the (left-leaning) NY Times as too reliable of a news outlet nowadays. They've been anti-rail for a while now (which is yet another thing that kills the notion of left-wing politics and pro-rail advocacy going hand in hand). Not to mention, right-leaning Fox News indicates that texting may not have been the cause of the crash.

This incident is another black mark against Connex (nowadays Veolia Transportation), if anything. (And Connex is still operating the Luas in Dublin, Ireland too.) The LA Times reports on Veolia's efforts to lobby for delays in meal breaks, which would be troublesome for a railroad where the hoggers work 53-hour weeks and same-day split shifts resulting in 10½-hour days.

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RR4me
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Well, the suits have started. A brakeman on the freight has filed suit, along with his wife. Did they think the money would run out before they could get "theirs"?.
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