About 18 months ago, FRA issued Emergency Order No. 29 specifically to Metro-North Railroad.
This order, issued after the fatal overspeed derailment at DV instructed Metro-North but no other railroad to modify its existing automatic train control system to enforce speed reduction wherever the required deceleration is 20 mph or greater from the train's maximum authorized speed. Until those modifications were made, Metro-North, but no other railroad, was required to place a second qualified railroad employee in the control compartment of passenger trains when operating through such a restricted area.
The "logic" of the emergency order was faulty to begin with, even if Metro-North were the only railroad in the country with civil speed restrictions demanding such deceleration, since there was no demand that Metro-North's train control system be designed to cap, enforce, the maximum speed itself. If the timetable required a deceleration from 50 to 40 mph, there was no need, per FRA emergency order, to enforce the 10 mph speed reduction. However, without enforcing the maximum speed approaching the curve, there was nothing to prevent a train from entering the curve at 85 or 90 mph.
But you already knew that. I already knew that. Anybody who has ever qualified as a: locomotive engineer, conductor, train dispatcher knows that.
Metro-North isn't the only railroad in the country with such restrictions, and 18 months later, passengers on a railroad have suffered through another fatal overspeed derailment.
And once again, FRA leaps into the breach with and Emergency Order, once again directed to a single operating railroad, this time Amtrak.
Emergency Order No. 31 orders Amtrak to "identify each main track curve on the Northeast Corridor where there is a significant reduction (more than 20 miles per hour [mph]) from the maximum authorized approach speed to those curves for passenger trains. Amtrak must then...modify its existing ATC system or other signal systems to enable enforcement of passenger train speed limits at the identified curves."
The prevention of overspeed derailments was stipulated in the RSIA of 2008 as a mandatory function of any PTC system installed by all railroads required to install such a system, and . all passenger railroads are required to install or operate with PTC enforced protection in that legislation.
Clearly, Congress recognized that the potential for overspeed derailment was not a problem isolated to a particular property. What's key here is this notion of potential. Because the potential exists in the simple physics of railroading, prevention is required system, network, industry-wide.
So...so you might think that after DV on Metro-North, every responsible railroad VP-O would look at his or her property and say "Hey, this could happen here, at Beanbag Jct., or at White Horse curve, or West Line Bridge." I'm sure many did just that, look and worry. But VP-Os like all railroad officers, have a host of other concerns, like cost vs. benefit; like the budget; like how much track time, which does after all have a dollar equivalent, can be afforded to make such modifications and still provide the service which has its own, ruling, dollar equivalent. So...
So... this is where the regulator is supposed to step in and think system. This is where the regulator is supposed to be the institutional memory and the institutional knowledge for the entire industry. This is where the regulator is supposed to remember, recall, the other overspeed derailments This is where the regulator is supposed to remember the other "deep dives" that were precipitated by additional reports of overspeeding.
This is where the regulator has to address the industry. The potential exists everywhere; the only way to effectively prevent the actual individual manifestation is by addressing this potential.
This is no easy task. FRA will have to address and propose methods for reducing that risk on properties that operate without cab signals and speed control. The alternative, given the delay to PTC, is more derailments, more deaths, more expressions of regret, sympathy, and condolence-- all of which are simply admissions of failure.
May 22, 2015