re: Congress' $20 Billion Tech Mandate: Make Trains Safer
Where is the emphasis on human safety? Aren't people's lives worth something? Why does this industry had such an abysmal safety record for over 175 years? Could it have something to do with a basic disregard for people's lives? I don't have to make the claim; history proves it. Speaking of history, just watch the History Channel's 1997 program, "Train Wrecks" and then ask yourself, why did all of those horrendous and deadly incidents happen? Could a lot of them have been avoided if the industry had cared more about safety?
The last 10 years have been hugely profitable for the railroads. That's why the brilliant businessman, Warren Buffett, bought into BNSF. So the idea that the industry doesn't have the money to invest in an extremely important safety technology, like Positive Train Control, is absurd. What would people have yelled if the airline industry had said, "We're not going to get radar in our planes, even though it will prevent almost all mid-air collisions, because it costs too much?" Imagine that!
Anyone who researches the U.S. Railroad industry, starting in 1825, will quickly find that safety has been historically last and profit first. The U.S. Railroad industry was killing an average of 9,000 to 10,000 people a year in the late 1800's and into the 1900's. It's a fact that the industry was slow to adopt the telegraph for communicating train locations and that lack of communications caused a massive number of train-into-train collisions. It was slow to adopt the pneumatic braking system of genius inventor George Westinghouse. Then, we could talk about the wooden passenger cars that collapsed in derailments / collisions, trapping people. The stoves used in cold weather would then set the car on fire and the occupants wouldn't have a chance. Steel passenger cars were available, but, as usual, the RR's played cheap and kept using the wooden ones.
Posted in locomotives all over America by train crews in the 1800's and into the 1900's:
Those train crew members KNEW what the railroad industry's attitude was towards safety and human life.
So I would expect the industry spokespersons to howl that the above information is "grossly outdated" and doesn't take into account the "big advances" in technology adopted by the industry. Really! Well, the honest truth is that the U.S. Railroad industry is still in what I would call the "Dark Ages" of technology. Examples abound: the continued use of the 1870 Track Circuit that isn't "fail-safe" as the industry, the FRA and the manufacturers claim. All it takes is some rust on one rail (or other contaminant) and the shunt doesn't happen. No shunt = No train detection = No activation of active warning devices. Ditto Block Switching. The industry should have moved to devices such as loop detectors and magnetometers over 50 years ago. Those devices aren't affected by weather and rail conditions like the monstrously ancient Track Circuit. If the Track Circuit is so reliable and "fail-safe", why does the DPS in Austin, Texas get over 300 calls a week from motorists reporting malfunctioning crossing warning devices? Why are there total activation failures of crossing warning devices all over the U.S.? The FRA has a database of them, but my bet is that the database only has a tiny fraction of the actual total failures of the Track Circuit.
I provided tech. support for the largest Tandem computer system in the world in 1990. That company had a fleet of trucks that delivered products to the company's 1,200+ stores. The trucks were equipped with GPS tracking. So the company knew where the trucks were at all times. Here we are in 2012 and the railroad industry could have GPS tracking on every locomotive, but, of course, they don't. The tracking technology has been around more than 20 years, but, as usual, the railroad industry isn't using it and wouldn't be testing PTC technology unless the FRA forced them to do it. Oh, and BTW, where is the reflective tape on all of the rolling stock? The FRA gave the industry 10 years to put it on (deadline is 2015---bet it will be extended, just like PTC.)
I interviewed a former top executive at the Association of American Railroads (AAR), who told me he was fired many years ago for even suggesting that the railroad industry should be spending some money on train and track safety!
Maybe someone in cyberland can explain to me why those two UP freight trains collided head-on, killing 3 crew members, in the Oklahoma panhandle recently? Like I said, this is 2012, we put people on the moon in 1967, we have put remote landers on Mars, but the locomotives operating all over America don't have GPS location that has been available for over 20 years. Beyond pathetic.
And, anyone who still thinks I am exaggerating about the RR industry's rotten attitude concerning safety has only to read New York Times investigator Walt Bogdanich's Pulitzer Prize-winning series, "Death on the Track"--2003-2004, to get an eye-full. Maybe someone can also explain why locomotives are so poorly lighted---NO side lights, many still painted black and front lights that have a very narrow angle of illumination. Many school buses have Strobe lights and you can't miss them. Why not locomotives? Strobe lights are dirt cheap! How come the tractor-trailers on our highways are lit-up like Christmas trees, front, sides and back, but trains aren't?
My heart goes out to the families of the crew members killed in Oklahoma on June 24th. People make mistakes, but the question remains, was it Dispatcher error, crew error or Track Circuit malfunction? If those locomotives were equipped with GPS location equipment, perhaps alarms would have gone off to warn the crews that the trains were on the same track. Why weren't they communicating by radio? I can't wait to see what the NTSB comes up with, given their highly questionable claims after the Amtrak-truck crash--Bourbonnais, Illinois, 1999, and the U.S. 95, Nevada desert Amtrak-truck crash, last year.
In case someone asks, I DO NOT work for the trucking industry and never have. They have lots of problems, too.