Sometimes people don't get my humor. Here in France, for example, most of the people don't get my humor.
It's not the fault of the French, clearly. This is, after all, a country that has enshrined Jerry Lewis in its legion of honor, no?
Laff riot, that's me. For sure. Droll, dry wit, understated. So I'm not a bit surprised that apparently some didn't catch the humor, my use of hyperbole in the opening paragraphs of my last post.
For the record:
True, I do love being in France; True I do love the French railway network; False, the French do not spend 10 percent of their GDP on their railways. As near as I can determine, the French spend 2.3 percent of the their GDP on railways. I exaggerated for effect. .
True, the popularity of the National Front bothers me. False, I will still love being in France if the National Front continues to gather support. I just won't be in France. When Bush Jr. was President of the US, my French friends did not want to visit the US, and I didn't blame them.
False, I was not in Paris in May 1968, staying with the Cobblestone family.
False, I was not in Cannes, topless on the beach with Charlize and Monica. I am in Nice, about 35 km from Cannes; the last time I went topless anywhere other than my shower was 1977; the closest I've ever come to Charlize and Monica is seeing their films at the Angelika Theater.
The Bandol is real though, and there's plenty of it.
Some things I joke about. Some things not. Some things I wish had happened. Some things I wish had not happened. I don't exaggerate the things I wish had not happened.
In the end, and the beginning, that's the risk with humor, exaggeration, etc. etc. Some might not get it. Désolé.
Then there's this-- the story of the unidentified flying object striking, or not, the windshield of Amtrak #188; the story that the assistant conductor related, where she thinks she recalls the locomotive engineer on #188 reporting by radio such an event. In certain other venues I referred to the story by its proper name-- "bullshit." Some didn't get that. Well, the "bullshit" part isn't whether or not someone threw an object at #188. That, throwing things at trains, happens all the time. All the time.
The bullshit was floating this story as explanation, reason, influence, for the operation of the train in the minutes after the so-called stoning. The "bullshit" part was in the train crew member "recalling" the radio conversation but not, apparently, recalling the maximum authorized speed for the section of track and the operation of the train over that speed. Bullshit the story was, and bullshit the story is, and bullshit the story will remain no matter what the FBI, the NTSB, "determines." No joke, no exaggeration.
What does a passenger locomotive engineer do when an object is thrown at his/her windshield? Depends. Depends on whether or not the object penetrates the windshield, or causes any other damage. If not, the engineer reports it to the train dispatcher so other trains (and the railroad police) can be advised. If yes, the object does penetrate, then the windscreen might shatter and, if glass rains down upon the engineer, he or she will usually put the train into emergency braking, and then report it to the train dispatcher. Lessons? Wear your safety glasses at all times. Always report the vandalism to the train dispatcher.
Then, after the story was revealed to be more rather than less the red herring it is, I stated that I hoped Amtrak "brought charges" against the train crew.
Now when we say "bring charges" on the railroad, we are not talking about criminal indictment. As powerful as railroads might have been in the past, they do not have the authority to issue criminal indictments, or warrants. We're talking about initiating disciplinary proceedings internal to the company. Depending on the craft, such proceedings are identified as "trials," "hearings," and/or "investigations," and usually start with a certified letter, return receipt requested, addressed to the employee that goes something like this:
"Arrange to attend a formal investigation (hearing, trial) into your responsibility, if any [get that? if any] into the ______ of train _______ at date:_____, time:______ while you were assigned as [conductor, engineer, assistant conductor]. Rules __, __, __ of the Operating Rules [of the railroad], timetable special instruction(s)______of timetable #___, may be involved.
If you wish you may be accompanied by your accredited union representative.
Sincerely, etc,etc, etc."
That's called bringing charges. I don't know, or have any particular interest in what the state of Pennsylvania decides to do in this matter. That's immaterial to the cause of the incident, and immaterial to the proper response to this accident.
Cause? Did I say cause? Can we even determine the cause at this early date? NTSB, although providing more information in this incident than in the overspeed derailment at DV on Metro-North, will not be issuing final findings for what? another six months? That's another railroad thing. We don't have 6 months; we don't get 6 months.
How long did it take Amtrak to restore service on the NEC after this derailment, 5 days? Well, everyone knows no matter how rapidly you restore service, it always took too long.
Destroy the railroad, an interlocking or two, 2000 feet of catenary and track, and some superintendent somewhere who once was a trainmaster just like you is asking why it wasn't back yesterday, and what do you mean it won't be back until tomorrow? That superintendent of course is beating the phone to death because the general manager, who once upon a time was superintendent, is beating him to death with his phone, because the vice-president of operations... you get the picture.
But if it takes 5 days, it takes 5 days, and in those five days you, meaning the transportation officer, need to determine the cause so that proper mitigating action can be initiated.
So after the employees and passengers have been safely removed, after you have marked the point of rest of the train, and determined the initial point of derailment, you get the interviews with the crew members, the radio tapes, the event recorder data, the record of the cab signal and air brake tests, the print out, and the replay, of the archive of train movements from the movement office. You review all that. You create a time line. You recreate the circumstances. You progress the train, second by second, through the approach to and into the point of derailment. Now you look for the most likely explanation.
UFOs, even those striking a windscreen, are not an explanation for an intentional and sustained acceleration of the train. We exclude, for the same reason, acts of terrorism, or deliberate suicidal impulses of the locomotive engineer, since overspeeding on a curve is not a sure way to escape the dreariness of everyday life...permanently.
What's left? Traction motor runaway? With no action by the locomotive engineer over the course of 60 or 90 seconds? You're in your automobile. The engine begins to rev out of control. Would it take you 60 to 90 seconds to take the automobile out of gear and apply the brakes?
Fatigue? Distinct possibility. Except the locomotive engineer stated he was not fatiqued. He was rested. So what's left?
I received the following from Paul D. North, Jr:
"Might the engineer have become mistaken or confused in where he thought his location was - specifically, that he had already passed the 50 MPH restrictive curve ? That could have happened for any number of reasons - he was relatively new on the territory, might have been distracted by the foreign object impacts, etc.
The NY Times article linked above at - http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/05/13/us/investigating-the-philadelphia-amtrak-train-crash.html?_r=0 - is somewhat helpful, esp. the 2nd map from the top, but not completely so.
The crux of my point is this:
In view of the above, I'm speculating that the engineer came around the preceding curve to the west, but mistakenly thought he had already passed through the 50 MPH sharp curve and then the short right curve to the east after it. Under that mistaken locaton, he then increased speed, which would be consistent with the action of an engineer after that second right curve, to accelerate on the straightaway to the northeast after the juncti0n, as the NY Times noted."
Well, I haven't been keeping up with the NYT while I've been in France, but this appears to be a likely, if not the most likely, explanation for what occurred. The locomotive engineer confused the curve he had just negotiated with the curve still to be negotiated. He made a mistake.
The cause may be simple, but the issue gets complicated. We have a case of human error, of all too human error that has caused loss of life. What do we do? That depends on the we we are.
If you're a safety professional, a union representative, an outside consultant, a transportation safety board member, an attorney for the employee, and the most plausible explanation for this tragedy is human error-- and to be sure this is a human error that could have been prevented through the application of existing technology-- your interest might be in providing something you term justice to the employee. You might value a "just culture" where a "hardworking" "responsible" cooperative" employee is not severly penalized for being, in the end, all too human.
That's one we. That's not my we.
My we are the operating officers who are responsible for safe train operations and have to determine if this employee can be allowed to perform service again in a safety sensitive position.
My we are the officers who have to accept personal responsibility for this decision and the additional risk it brings to train operations.
My we are the operating officers whom employees rightly expect to protect them from catastrophic human error.
The history of US railroads is not, or not solely, a history of military like discipline, the culture of punishment, and assigning blame. It has also been a culture of leniency, of second and third chances, and of repeated violations by certain individuals.
I am pretty certain that every operating officer has a story, knows a story, about an employee in a safety-sensitive position who was fired, dismissed in all capacities as we are inclined to say, for an egregious, possibly life-threatening violation of the operating rules. And as this story goes, against the advice of the line officer, this employee was restored to service on appeal to a superior company officer, or by an arbitrator, or by a labor relations manager who saw the "bigger picture" and the bigger issues.
And continuing this story, that employee, once restored to service quickly violated the operating rules again, this time no longer creating the near miss, but the actual event, the real hit, with damage and/or injuries.
You see the problem, don't you? None of the advocates of a "just culture," no union representative, no arbitrator, no labor relations manager has ever had to accept personal responsibility for putting others at risk. Nobody asks a union representative why he or she tries to restore an employee to service when the employee has a poor work record, a history of rule violations, and represents a risk to himself and others.
No arbitrator has to account for putting an employee back to work who then injures another employee.
We we, the operating officers, always have to accept personal responsibility for the risk our decision may inject into the operating environment.
Ask the lawyers, the union officers, the arbitrators, those advocating a "just culture" just how much personal liability they are willing to assume for restoring to service any single employee who violates critical safety regulations.
Then ask the same advocates how willing they are to assume personal liability for restoring to service all employees who have committed such violations. All? Yes all, because once we start this, we establish a precedent, and that precedent must be applied evenly and consistently. The labor agreements require that.
Now I'm a cyncial jaded person, I am. I don't think a one of them, not a single lawyer, union rep, labor relations manager, arbitrator, or NTSB member would accept a shred of responsibility for the performance of any employee so returned to service. Not a one. Not a shred.
I'm not exaggerating and that's no joke.
May 19, 2015
"Oh lord, please don't let me be misunderstood"-- The Animals.