I've been in France. I love being in France. How could I not love a country that spends ten percent of its GDP on its railroads? Of course if the Front National continues to gather support, that love will be a risk, but until then......
Until then I'm in Paris, in the Latin Quarter, celebrating the great May days of 1968, with my close friends, the famillies Pavés; I'm in Cannes, topless, on the beach with Halle, and Monica, and Catherine, and Charlize, and a couple of bottles of Bandol; I'm in neither place, my shirt's on, none of the above is real, except the Bandol, which is a first step, but just...
And what am I missing? Another fatal overspeed derailment? At Frankford Jct?
More NTSB? More press?
More "If only PTC would have been installed"?
More "But wait, we have this spectrum problem"?
More John Ehrlichmanning/Mitchelling? "I have no recollection of the events leading up to..." my particpation in the plans to break into the headquarters of the Democratic Party?...the events prior to and during the derailment at 102 mph on a curve restricted to 50 mph?
Memory loss. I talk to my friends (ok I only have a few) in this business, and we all talk about loss of institutional knowledge; institutional memory. Nobody knows how to do anything anymore. Right? You've thought it. Maybe you've said it.
Nobody knows anything. Nobody wants to know. Everybody wants to forget. "We're only in it for the money," said Frank Zappa. He was serious, but he meant it as a criticism, not as an operating plan.
Amnesia is the modern currency. I don't recall, I can't remember, Nobody told me, It's so long ago I forgot, I was distracted: cue Shaggy to give us the short version, "It wasn't me."
Cue the union, "We warned Amtrak that schedule changes imposed on our members exacerbated the risk of fatigue."
Cue the unconfirmed report from an assistant conductor that #188's locomotive may have been hit by a "projectile." The story, so it's told, goes like this:
The assistant conductor, however, who was working in the cafe car, heard Mr. Bostian talking to an engineer on the Septa regional rail line who said his train had been “hit by a rock or shot at,” according to Mr. Sumwalt. She said she thought she heard Mr. Bostian reply that his train had also been struck.
"Right after she recalled hearing this conversation between her engineer and the Septa engineer, she said she felt a rumbling, and her train leaned over and her car went over on its side,” Mr. Sumwalt said.
Priceless, brothers and sisters. See, the assistant conductor recalls that, the radio report, but apparently she doesn't recall the locomotive engineer accelerating the train to 1.5X the maximum authorized speed for the track approaching the curve, and the 2.0X the speed authorized for the curve itself. And apparently, if she did take notice, she didn't take immediate action to notify the engineer or the conductor.
See? This is what I mean by loss of institutional memory, or knowledge. She heard the radio, but apparently had no idea how fast the train was, or should be, moving. Maybe I'm wrong. Please, anyone, prove me wrong.
Hey, I've got an idea. Let's ask the passengers who ride that train everyday if they noticed excessive speed. Guess what? They did. Holy rule book, we need to hire our passengers for train crew personnel since apparently they are the only ones paying attention to the operation of the train.
So...did the engineer on Amtrak 188 notify the train dispatcher of the stoning? He has no recollection, according to NTSB investigators. Amnesia.
Let's go to the radio tapes and find out. Indeed. But don't hold your breath. Really. Anybody ever hear from NTSB about the cellphone records of the SUV driver at the Commerce Street accident on Metro-North? I know I haven't. And I've asked. Weekly.
And if the report is accurate, exactly what does that have to do with the throttle position of the locomotive? The locomotive engineer was "startled" and inadvertently went to the 8th notch, or forgot to move the throttle out of the 8th notch, because something hit the windshield? He doesn't know. Nobody knows. He doesn't recall. Nobody recalls. Amnesia. It's a Watergate world, and I'm sleepwalking.
I remember having projectiles thrown at my locomotive when operating in certain areas of Chicago. We called that loveable section of the railroad, in our crude, vulgar, imperialist manner the "Ho Chi Minh trail." This was the 70s after all, a long way and a long time from Paris May 1968. I bet railroaders in other cities had their own "trails."
I remember Amtrak's E60 locomotives (remember those brutes? Great for hauling coal at 40 mph; passenger trains at 90? Not so much) with what we called "grenade screens" affixed to the windshields, precisely for operating through certain tough areas.
So what? Never saw a locomotive engineer lose track of where he or she was when we got hit. Amnesia was not quite as popular then.
Call me cynical, call me jaded, call me the big-mouthed, abrasive, arrogant, rude, crude, vulgar, impolite, impolitic, gauche, overly aggressive s**thead everyone knows me to be (including family members), but I'm not buying into it.
I remember how to tell where I am on the railroad from inside the train. I used my railroad approved watch that tells me what time it is, where we should be at this time, and then I know what the timetable says my MAS should be, and what my MAS should be at the next restriction... and Holy rat's ass, Casey Jones, you're overspeeding.
But I'll tell you...I'm sick of this whole charade.
I'm sick of the statements "reaffirming the industry's embrace of PTC" after the years of moaning about the unfunded mandate; after the years of not, in the interim, using existing technology, to automatically enforce a stop signal, or a permanent speed restriction.
I'm sick of the warnings about fatigue, accompanied of course by the refusal or inability, or the reluctance to establish medical fitness standards and test for sleep apnea.
I'm sick of the "letters of concern" and "emergency orders" that are a)issued for the benefit of the press and/or b)are directed toward a single property, and don't even address the problems on that property in a systematic, thorough fashion.
I am heartsick of the top ten "if onlys...but waits" like:
10. If only...Amtrak had close call confidential reporting...
9. But wait... Amtrak does have C3RS in place.
8. If only Amtrak had PTC...
7. But wait this accident could have been prevented without PTC.
6. If only Amtrak had a second person in the operating cab of the locomotive...
5. But wait, there was a second person in the cab when Ricky Lee Gates ran the stop signal at Gunpow and killed 16 people.
4. If only Amtrak had an alerter in the cab
3. But wait Amtrak #188 did have an alerter in the cab.
2. If only anybody, but anybody remembered anything about the first principles of safe railroading; about responsibility; about knowing your timetable; about the conductor being in charge of the train.
1. But wait: Monsieur, une autre bouteille de Bandol s'il vous plaît. Je dois oublier certaines choses.
May 16, 2015
"You know Burke, I don't know which species is worse..."-- Ripley Aliens