Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

NTSB Acting Chairman Named

March 20, 2017

Bella Dinh-Zarr has been named as acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board after the term of incumbent Chairman Christopher Hart expired last week.

Hart remains a member of the five-member board and had served as chairman since March 2015.

He had served as acting chairman for nearly a year before being nominated by the Obama administration to be the permanent chairman.

Dinh-Zarr has served as vice chairman since March 2015. Before joining the NTSB, she served as director of the U.S. Office of the FIA Foundation, an international philanthropy organization that promotes safe and sustainable transportation.
NTSB members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. By law, a board member is designated by the president to be the chairman while another is designated to be the vice chairman for two-year terms.

‘Accident’ or ‘Crash?’ Both Might Be Accurate Terms But Don’t Quite Mean the Same Thing

April 20, 2016

As a professional writer, I pay close attention to the words I use to convey information and express thoughts.

Hence, I took an interest in a recent discussion on a railfan chat list in the wake of an incident in which an Amtrak train struck a backhoe 15 miles south of Philadelphia.

Two Amtrak maintenance-of-way workers were killed and 30 passengers aboard the train suffered minor injuries.

The online discussion focused, in part, on the use of the word “accident” to describe what happened.

On TransportationA poster in the thread asserted that because events such as the one in which the train struck the backhoe are preventable many in the railroad and regulatory fields now call them collisions or crashes rather than accidents.

That’s because the word “accident” suggests that no one was at fault.

If the two construction workers had been killed after being struck by a meteor, that would be an accident because no rules were violated and, hence, no one was at fault. It would have been the proverbial act of God.

The poster was correct that the incident involving the backhoe was preventable. A piece of construction equipment doesn’t just happen to find its way onto a railroad track over which trains are operating at better than 100 miles per hour.

Someone made a mistake. A rule was violated and it is often said that every rule in every rule book of every railroad is written in blood.

But does that meant that if a rules violation leads to injury or death that it is not an accident, but a collision, a crash, or even an incident?

I would describe it as an accident because the event was unintentional.

The operator of the backhoe did not go to work intending to be struck and killed by a train.

The engineer of the train did not go to work intending to strike a piece of construction equipment and kill someone.

The passengers didn’t board the train intending to suffer personal injury.

It will be several months before the National Transportation Safety Board issues a final report that will specify which rule or rules were violated by whom and how.

Once the NTSB report is released, there may be some discussion about the adequacy of the rules and/or how they are practiced. Some might call for a revision of the rules in the name of safer practices.

In the meantime, the Federal Railroad Administration has ordered Amtrak to review its safety practices and retrain its workers.

All of this is oriented toward creating and maintaining an environment in which there are zero injuries and fatalities.

That is unlikely to occur so long as that environment involves humans because people are subject to such things as forgetfulness, lack of knowledge of the rules and procedures, lack of skill in following the rules and procedures, and engaging in poor judgment.

The business of assessing fault has consequences that transcend what caused the incident and what rule(s) were violated by whom.

Jobs might be lost, careers destroyed and thousands, if not millions, of dollars must be paid to repair damaged equipment and property, not to mention paying the medical costs for making the injured whole again.

Someone has to pay for those costs and the determination of who is fault goes a long way toward identifying who those people and companies will be.

In that context, whether the event is framed as an “accident” or a “crash” could be important in how that determination is ultimately made.

Such frames guide how people, including judges and juries in a court of law, think about what occurred and make decisions as to who owes what and how much to whom.

On the surface, the words used to describe an event might seem to be a trivial matter.

Arguably, “accident,” “crash” and “collision” all accurately describe the same thing.

Yet there can be subtle differences in how the meanings of those words are perceived and that might make a significant difference in sorting out the aftermath.

Falling Rail Traffic Has Me Seeing 2008 Again

February 6, 2016

For the past year I’ve been following the dismal news about falling freight car traffic on North American railroads.

Then I ran across a commentary that America’s industrial sector is in a recession and therefore so are North America’s railroads.

On TransportationIt remains to be seen if this will pull the rest of the U.S. economy into a recession. Consumer spending fuels two-thirds of the economy and so long as that remains strong there may be a slowdown but not a recession.

But the statistics about falling freight traffic combined with the response of the railroads has taken me back to the early summer of 2008. Like today, railroad traffic was slowing then, too.

Although I didn’t suspect that a recession was around the corner, I did tell a friend in an email message that I expected to see fewer trains and do more trackside reading that summer.

Later that year the Great Recession took hold and I have a vivid memories of driving to Akron Railroad Club meetings on Friday evenings and seeing a long line of idled boxcars and auto rack cars on a siding of the CSX New Castle Subdivision in Cuyahoga Falls.

It was a vivid and tangible reminder of how sour the economy had turned.

The railfan press published photographs of long lines of older locomotives mothballed by Class 1 railroads because there were fewer trains operating.

I am not prescient enough to predict what will happen to the U.S. economy this year and many economists who claim to be able to do so are not worried yet about another recession.

But I can see 2008 and 2009 happening again and in fact it has already started.

Last year CSX began operating fewer and longer manifest freights.

I got a first-hand glimpse of that strategy one afternoon in New London last fall. I’ve always enjoyed sitting in the parking lot next to the above ground reservoir and watching CSX trains on the busy Greenwich Subdivision.

But on this day the Greenwich Sub was uncharacteristically quiet. Every busy rail line has lull periods, but the lulls on this day were out of character from what I had observed in the past.

It was a Monday and I’ve heard that there is less rail traffic on Mondays. So maybe that explained the paucity of even intermodal trains.

But I’ve noted on other days that there seem to be fewer trains on CSX. I’ve also taken notice of monster length mixed car freights.

In the past couple of years I used to be able to count on seeing multiple tank car trains during a given railfan outing. Now I do good to see one.

Norfolk Southern recently said that it is going to run fewer and longer trains as part of a strategic plan to improve its financial position.

Throw in the loss of coal and crude oil traffic and it means that if you spend time in Berea this year watching trains you are going to have a lot of time to read the latest issue of Trains or Railfan and Railroad between trains.

Trains are not going away and the industry expects better times to return eventually. But until then, there will be less to see trackside.

Although I didn’t live in Northeast Ohio in the early 1980s, guys who did have talked about how scarce trains became on the Chessie mainline through Akron.

If you found a train on the Chessie, you followed it as far as you could and created as many photo ops as possible. Otherwise, you might be spending hours looking at empty rails.

Given what lies ahead with the railroads of Northeast Ohio, it might be time to pull out of storage the chase a train most of the day strategy.

Trains columnist Fred Frailey has suggested there is something different about this falloff in rail traffic.

In a column titled “The Party’s Over,” Frailey said the railroad renaissance of growing traffic of the past decade is over. Coal, once a dependable source of revenue and traffic, is falling precipitously and growth of intermodal traffic has stalled amid intensifying competition from truckers benefiting from lower fuel prices.

Although some railroad industry analysts believe the railroad renaissance is on hold, not over, Frailey thinks otherwise.

He called for a new business model that can respond effectively to highway competition, shipper unhappiness, increased government regulation, and unrelenting pressure from Wall Street for short-term results.

Frailey suggested that BNSF might have the framework for such a model in mind because its traffic numbers are up slightly in some areas and only slightly down in others.

I’m sure that Frailey will be writing about the “new model” in future columns in Trains. Goodness knows I’ll have plenty of time to read those columns as I sit trackside waiting for the most recent lull in rail traffic to end.

Late June Afternoon in Harpers Ferry

June 10, 2012

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited rolls into the station at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on June 7, 2012. The train is named after a B&O train of the same name that used these tracks for decades before being discontinued in 1971.

Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is a scenic and historic small town that also happens to be a good place to photograh trains. Craig Sanders spent more than three hours in Harpers Ferry on June 7 and offers a report on the trains that he saw and photographed.

This is CSX territory and many of the trains that pass through Akron also pass through Harpers Ferry, although some are reclassified in Cumberland to the west.

Harpers Ferry features Amtrak, MARC commuter trains and a good mix of CSX freight. This is all former Baltimore & Ohio. The tunnel under Maryland Heights that the B&O drilled through the rock long ago is still in use as is the bridge over the Potomac River. But the B&O color position lights are long gone.

To reach Craig’s report and view more photographs, click on the link below.

Photographs by Craig Sanders

MARC No. 12 is MP36PH-3. MARC Brunswick line trains serving Harpers Ferry terminate to the west at Martinsburg, W.Va.

A westbound CSX auto rack train exits the tunnel under Maryland Heights and crossed the bridge over the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry.

First Rays of Sunlight

June 4, 2012

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited was early in arriving into Cleveland on Sunday, June 3. I was returning from a brief, but enjoyable, trip out to downtstate Illinois to visit my dad and stepmother. It is an annual trek that I take right after Memorial Day.

I stowed my belonging in the trunk of my car — it is always a good sight to see my car still in the Amtrak parking lot — and then got out my camera to see what I could capture.

It was still quite dark, but the first rays of sunlight of the new day were just coming over the horizon. I set the ISO and white balance to automatic and experimented a bit with making the images lighter than what the camera wanted to do on its own.

In this image, you can see the Key Bank tower and the tower of the former Cleveland Union Terminal. Alas, a parking garage is another dominant feature. The wires are from the RTA Waterfront Line, which was not operating at this early hour.

The Lake Shore had its typical consist of two P42 locomotives up front, two baggage cars (one of which was on the end of the train), three Viewliner sleepers, six Amfleet II coaches, a Horizon food service car that served as the lounge, and Viewliner diner Indianapolis. It was the first time I’d seen Amtrak’s sole Viewliner diner.

In the image of the “Indy” below, you can see the interior of the diner through the windows. Although there was stirring in the kitchen area, breakfast would not be served until 6:30 a.m.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders