It Was Only That

When the National Transportation Safety Board had their meeting to report on their findings about the Amtrak accident in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, I will admit I did have some concerns about what the Board would find. In some ways it was kind of like the person who is having the worst day of their life, and after the car broke down, they lost their job, and they broke up with their significant other, all the person could do was ask, “what next?” In this case, it was the result of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act, Lac Megantic and the rules and debate that followed (and is still going on), PTC, HoS, ECP brakes, and you can name a half dozen more new things we have had to do to make ourselves “safer”.I’m not complaining about these rules or systems, I am complaining about how we have become knee-jerk regulators, sitting back and not doing anything until there is an accident, and then we shift into Chicken Little mode, with everyone running around claiming that the sky is falling and we have to do something to make the “dangerous” railroads safe. Most of the time these people completely ignore the volumes of safety data in front of them, and in order to put themselves in a good light with their bosses (the voters), they go ahead and propose that the safety toy of the month be imposed on all railroads for their own good.Having said the above, you could imagine my relief when the findings were released. In this case, the engineer, distracted by work related communications, lost situational awareness of where he was, and accelerated where he should have been braking. That’s how you get a train going 106MPH derailing around a 50MPH curve. I literally said to myself, “it was only that.”Could the accident have been prevented? Of course. There should have been at least cab signals, which could have prevented the over speed, and PTC would have definitely prevented the loss of situational awareness and the over speed. Amtrak has since installed PTC on that line in that direction.I do feel for Mr. Bostian, the engineer of the train. He was working at a job that he wanted to do, and by all reports was conscientious about the job he was doing. He simply lost track of where he was due to distraction, and where you are covering over a quarter of a mile every ten seconds, he just didn’t have enough time to get his bearings back. He now has to live with what happened for the rest of his life, and may not be able to work at the job he wanted to work at ever again. I’m sure the lawsuits will go on for years, and some people will never truly happy with the results. From my perspective, I am somewhat relieved that we don’t have a bunch of politicians running around with a bunch of brilliant ideas on how we can save ourselves from…ourselves. --By Steve Friedland
steven-fb.jpg Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.