Railroads have a certain tradition when it comes to handling disasters, derailments, collisions, or other interruptions of service.
That tradition embodies two tasks of equal importance, equal urgency, equal priority as both tasks reflect on the railroad's ability to manage its operation. One of these tasks is the investigation and determination of the cause of the accident. The other task is the resumption of service as soon as possible.
When I say "soon as possible," I don't mean when somebody from the government tells you its OK to resume service. I don't mean after the cause has been determined. I don't mean after the broken glass and twisted metal have been swept up. I mean it the way the General Manager means as soon as possible-- the way that means "Yesterday. I want service restored yesterday, you pathetic excuse for a trainmaster. Why yesterday? Because for you, if you don't get it restored yesterday, there will be no tomorrow."
I had that conversation as a trainmaster. With the general manager, and the division superintendent. Guaranteed. It's a tradition
I had that conversation with the trainmaster when I was superintendent and when I was the deputy-chief operations. Guaranteed. It's a tradition.
It has been 60 hours since the overspeed derailment in Hoboken Terminal, and in that 60 hours, what is striking is.....what has not been accomplished.
The event recorders have not been downloaded, for one. NTSB in its wisdom, rather than have the railroad download the event recorder and provide a copy of the information, opts in these cases to "seize" the actual event recorder, the hardware, and download the data at a location off the railroad property.
In this case, after seizing the event recorder on the locomotive (the trailing end of the train in the push-pull configuration), the NTSB has been unable to access the data.
All locomotives used as controlling locomotives are required to be equipped with event recorders, and event recorders are always "on," recording data whether located at the controlling end of movement, or the trailing end, or somewhere in between. The "non-controlling" locomotive event recorder in this case was certainly recording speed, tractive effort, brake pipe and reservoir pressures, and probably throttle position even though the commands for speed, tractive effort, brake were controlled from the opposite end.
As for the event recorder on the control car at the leading end of movement, the NTSB has determined that it is not safe to enter that car, surrounded as it is by debris, including shreds of asbestos.
I feel for the NTSB. The railroad, left to itself, would have had a road foreman of engines, a mechanical officer, and a trainmaster on that control car, memory card or laptop in hand, downloading the event recorder minutes after the derailment, while the emergency services tended to the injured and the non-injured. If, in those early minutes, somebody representing an office of emergency management, or office of public safety, or an office of environmental protection, had said "asbestos," those railroad officers would not have been listening.
If somebody with a badge wanted to push the issue, tradition would have required the railroad officers to point to the passengers walking precisely through the area of possible contamination and clarify that the risk to railroad employees was no greater than the risk to the passengers and emergency services personnel.
That's a tradition too.
The NTSB can't do that. It's a safety investigation board. It can't very well be seen ignoring the risk to safety that loose debris, hanging wires, damaged roofing, and shredded asbestos presents.
There are ways of mitigating the risk presented by these environmental hazards and advancing the investigation. You put on the tyvek suit and booties. You wear a respirator and goggles, and you climb inside the car and download the event recorder. Then you climb out of the car, dispose of the suit and booties and goggles and respirator safely.
Meanwhile, others employed by the railroad either directly or via contract are busy mobilizing to "encapsulate" the scene of the derailment, to prevent the dispersal of any hazardous material released by the wreck.
Once that's done, somebody who knows something about terminal operations figures out how many tracks are available for the resumpton of service; what the safe routes are for loading and unloading passengers; what ancillary services (ticketing, waiting areas, etc.) have to be relocated, and then......since we will know from all available data, particularly the event recorders, that this derailment was not a result of a systemic failure, we resume service. That's the tradition
None of that forms any part of the traditions of the NTSB. NTSB has no obligations to service. And that's a shame, because the preservation of safety requires that service be restored yesterday so that commuters are not forced to resort to less safe means of transportation, like their cars, or buses.
October 1, 2016