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Fatal crash halts Northeast Corridor service south of New York

At least six people died when an Amtrak train from Washington to New York derailed last night north of Philadelphia.

Amtrak has halted all service between New York and Philadelphia and is running "modified" service between Boston and New York.

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Comments

People in my office use the trains to travel that corridor. We all just got back from a conference, and several people took that exact same scheduled train last week.

So very sorry for all who were harmed, and their families and friends.

UPDATE: two coworkers were on the train, returning from DC on business. They were seated when it went off the rails and got tossed around, but not crunched. Minor bruises and a broken laptop, nothing more.

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n/t

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n/t

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a know it all being a know it all.

Both of you pipe down!

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A know-nothing being know-nothing.

Enjoy your blissful existence.

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Why are you being such a jerk? Why are you trying to pick a fight over nothing? What an incredible jerk you are.

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I've taken that train hundreds of times. As have millions of people. Boston - DC is one of the few places in the US where long train service is popular and a relatively fast and easy way to move between cities. I'm sure in every large office in Boston you could find someone who's taken that train at least once in the last year.

But I'm not concerned. It's still extremely safe compared to driving or even flying. It will take a lot more accidents before I avoid the train for safety reasons.

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I feel for these people's familiesbut had zero issue hopping on my train to Penn Station this morning. Tragic accidents happen no matter your mode of transport and Amtrak is 1000 times better than flying, IMO.

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One reason why so many I work with prefer the train is that it is safer than driving, and even safer than plane travel. The statistics bear that out.

Then there is the convenience of boarding without spending hours at the station and South Station being close by, and the extra room and mobility one has en route. NYC by rail is a no-brainer. DC a bit further and harder to justify time wise, but my colleagues had been in the mid-Atlantic area since last week's big meeting.

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Accidents are so rare on both that it doesn't matter all that much, but I believe air is still statistically safest:

http://election.princeton.edu/2015/05/13/train-travel-is-incredibly-safe/

Although I suppose this doesn't account for the long-term health effects of air travel-induced stress...

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The "rare incidents" make it difficult to determine stable incidence statistics. Accidents per miles traveled in air is somewhat misleading, as one doesn't drive to Europe, and the largest risks are during take off and landing (which short hop flights do more of). Regardless, either mode is definitely less risky than driving.

Rail travel can be amazingly convenient and productive compared to air travel, however.

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DC a bit further and harder to justify time wise

This is, of course, correct. It should be dead wrong.

We should have a real high speed rail system on the NEC that connects Boston to DC (approx. 435 miles) in 3.5 hours as other so-called first-world countries do (actually, 3.5 hours presumes something like an average of 125 mph - as most of you know, other countries do much better than that).

It would change the whole game for the tens of millions of people that live in the NEC and further enhance the already outsized contribution the region makes to the national GDP.

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The Acela trains go 150 miles per hour on good, unrestricted track (128 to Providence; much of RI, eastern Connecticut, for example).

It's 210 miles from Boston to NY. If the trains could do that all the way, that would be 1 hour and 24 minutes to NY. Allowing 5 minutes to accelerate at the beginning, and 5 minutes to decelerate at the end, and 15 minutes apiece for 2 stops (decelerate, stand in station, accelerate), that would make a Boston to NY trip 2 hours and 4 minutes.

The existing technology is more than good enough. We're hampered by other factors (congestion, track condition, etc.)

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There are days it takes that long to get to Brighton.

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..normal maximum speed of 150 mph (241 kph) on two sections of its route between Boston and New Haven, CT, (35-mile total). Otherwise, its top speed is generally 135 mph (217 kph) between New York, NY, and Washington, DC..

http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?c=Page&pagename=am%2FLayout&...

I was surprised that it had its highest speeds on pieces of the run between Boston & New Haven, because so much of it is two-track, part owned by other RR, some significant curves, and some southeast CT sections passing right thru downtown areas with grade crossings. I would've thought the section in NJ between Newark and Trenton was their fastest run - they own it, it's 4-6 tracks, it's very straight and level, there's only one station they stop at between those points, and there are zero grade crossings.

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There's plenty of slow sections in downtown New London, etc.

Speeding up these very slow zones would be a lot more productive than raising 125 mph sections to 150.

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The line is way too curvy in CT to ever do anything close to 150 mph. Even with the tilting technology the Acela currently only reaches 125 on a few stretches in CT, with the majority of running <100 mph. Then west of New Haven the line is owned and controlled by Metro-North, who has no interest in ever maintaining track for anything more than 90 mph (and the current max has actually slipped to 80).

It also takes a lot longer tab 5 minutes to accelerate to 150 mph. Electric trains accelerate quickly, but not that quickly.

Plus you're always going to have more than 2 intermediate stops. Both New Haven and Stamford are arguably too important to skip, and good luck telling New London they're losing their stop. RI is fine with only Providence, but you can't skip 128.

And this doesn't even cover speed restrictions for things like movable bridges, sharp curves, interlockings, etc.

I think Amtrak's long-term goal of 3 hours is about the best you could ever do, and that assumes a top speed of 220 mph on an entirely new alignment.

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220 mph on an entirely new alignment.

(there it is!) The Inland Route!

Let's be at least kind of real here: the only way we're going to get real high speed rail in the NEC is by building new tracks along existing publicly-owned rights of way (e.g. along (and above!) the interstates) or other existing rights of way (utility lines, pipelines, etc., (yeah, I know, vibration issues)). The land is just too expensive up here now to do it any other way.

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is the best bet followed closely by a cut-off through eastern CT, particularly Windham country (NYC-NH-CT Valley-Hartford (split)-connection to shoreline/NEC in So. Mass). Both come with issues obviously - but the interstate solution is only feasible in specific locations - highways have grades, curves that are not capable of supporting HSR. As much as it seems the median could be put to better use, it's not possible to plop an ROW there save for a few limited examples - particularly Eastern Ct.

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3 hours was the goal for Acela when it was being planned. They failed to achieve it. I don't think they're still trying.

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that the colleagues were okay, aside from being jostled up. (Good thoughts to them and all the other folks in this awful situation.)

***

Have been seeing something that a curve that should be taken at 50 mph was taken at 100 mph. Wasn't there a similar issue on the Spanish trains a few years back?

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http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santiago_de_Compostela_rail_disaster

Similar scenario, train traveling at approximately twice the speed limit of 50 mph.

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I think they are more shook up by what they saw getting out than the amazingly minor injuries they sustained. Their coach tipped and wobbled, but didn't fall over entirely.

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What a debacle. My most sincere condolences to the families and friends of those injured and killed.

I will be anxiously awaiting the results of the NTSB investigation. We shall see if this yet another example of our failure to maintain our transportation infrastructure costing more lives - and whether the people who deserve the blame for that actually get any of the blame.

ADDENDUM: As bad as it sounds, I am hoping that this turns out to be the result of human error, as I think it is more likely that the issues associated therewith will be addressed (e.g., by funding positive train control systems).

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NBC News has (somehow) confirmed that the train was traveling over 100 mph.

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Also being reported the engineer wouldn't give a statement to investigators and lawyered up.

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Every Union/Lawyer says to never make any statements, guilty or not, until you have representation.

Not defending him if he did something wrong but the data recorders will verify what happened soon enough statement or not.

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I hope you're not stating that with the implication that it means something about his involvement in the accident, because you wouldn't either EVEN IF YOU WERE INNOCENT.

I'm tired of society somehow assuming that not talking means you somehow assume an air of guilt. No. Finding evidence of your guilt means you assume an air of guilt. Not talking means the evidence will have to come from somewhere else IF YOU'RE GUILTY. If you're not then there'll be no evidence somewhere else to find. And if no evidence is found, then it just means we can't find you guilty...yes, even if you actually are.

Why? Because to act or think otherwise, that the omission of supporting your potential punishers means you must be guilty is akin to expecting a woman to tie herself to a stake so that you can light her on fire to see if she's a witch.

Since the 1600's, we realized that if you give the prosecution the ability to threaten you and then offer you a way out if you would only give up the evidence of your guilt (and implicate all your "conspirators"), then the end result was that you were always guilty and all your conspirators were ripe for being guilty too. This ended when the Levellers demanded Parliament stop allowing the lack of being willing to take an oath to spill your guts as the equivalent as having said you did it...so you're damned if you did or didn't do it (all because some other person spilled their guts and named you).

Yet, somehow we've found our way back here again. If you don't cooperate with the district attorney, then you must be guilty (and let's tack on more crimes too). If Tom Brady doesn't turn over his phone, then he must be hiding something. If you don't like the government recording your location 24/7, then you must have something to hide.

If the engineer did something wrong on this train, we'll find out. And if we don't and he actually did something wrong, then we don't get to do anything about it...we should have done better finding out he did it. And if he did nothing wrong, then focusing on the fact that he isn't going to help you convict him of something...anything is counter-productive to putting the focus where it belongs: on whatever caused that train to derail.

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That might also be a good explanation for not making any statements to the press or investigators. Given the severity of the accident, I wouldn't assume that anyone involved would necessarily be able to comment.

That said, we have the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution for all the reasons that Kaz described. Our founders were more than casually acquainted with presumptive prosecution on hearsay evidence.

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data downloaded from the “black box” recorder showed that just before it crashed, the train was speeding at 106 m.p.h., Robert Sumwalt, the National Transportation Safety Board member leading the investigation, said at a news conference late Wednesday.

Yep, I'd call that confirmation of the train's speed.

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This looks really bad for the engineer, unless there is some evidence that he or she lacked crucial information on the true speed of the train (in other words, unless the spedometer was malfunctioning).

That is a possibility, as are braking failures.

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Braking failure is not really a possibility here, as he did a full emergency brake application seconds before the derailment. So they were working. And that wouldn't explain how the train got up to 106 mph in the first place.

As for speedometer malfunction, the engineer knew better than to operate the train if the speedometer was not functioning at all, and I can't think of a malfunction that would cause it to display half the actual speed, but even if that is the issue, that engineer would have been able to tell looking out the windshield that he was going a lot faster than he should be.

I'm reserving judgement until the NTSB report comes out, but I agree, it's not looking great for the engineer.

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The train was still very much in the city, only a few minutes out from 30th St Station. Why on earth would the engineer gun it in that situation??

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Maybe he was playing Words with Friends and got distracted.

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Using/playing with his cellphone. Didn't remember or see signal/sign warning of upcoming curve.

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Maybe I'm wrong about Amtrak's speed limits in Philly, but I don't see how the train could've been on a higher-speed stretch to begin with, since it had just left the station and was still in a dense area with lots of curves and junctions. It seems more like he actively sped up, as opposed to forgetting to slow down.

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This is correct. Since leaving 30th St Station there is no track good for more than 60-80, I can't recall the actual limit.

The question with this incident isn't so much any he didn't brake as why he was going that fast in the first place.

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If one is going 80 in a zone where this is permitted, can inattentiveness in ittself result in the train beginning to go even faster?

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Inferred from this article, which explains the automated warning system (built into the track infrastructure) that is required on all lines by the end of the year.

So I will assume that such a system would not be needed if train drivers couldn't erroneously (or accidently) speed up too much for a track section.

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No. The speed was cab signal restricted to 80 mph until 0.3 miles before the curve, meaning that on the tangent track through North Philadelphia if the engineer exceeded 80 mph he would have automatically incurred a penalty brake application. While it is possible to accelerate from 80 to 106 in 0.3 miles, he would've had to have the throttle wide open, which isn't as simple as falling asleep with your foot hard down on the gas pedal.

The 50 mph limit for the curve was not cab signal restricted going north though, engineers are just required to know the limit and reduce their speed accordingly. The cab signals would have allowed up to 110 mph before a penalty brake.

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This makes it sound like the speed increase would have had to be deliberate.

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this juvenile "must've been playing with his cellphone" response everytime something like this happens. It's almost as bad as the "he lawyered up, so he obviously has something to hide." response.

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It has indeed been the explanation in a number of similar cases.

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Texting has been the explanation for a number of inter-city train wrecks? When?

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We are lucky to be in a part of the US with generally reliable and safe intercity rail. As horrible and sad as this is, I can't imagine not taking Amtrak.

I booked a trip for tomorrow on Amtrak a few weeks ago, and have been receiving emails warning of delays:

We are contacting you to let you know that select Northeast Regional trains may encounter delays of 45 to 60 minutes from May 11 through May 28, due to CSX track work. This work affects trains operating to and from Richmond, Newport News and Norfolk.

I wonder if this is related.

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The DC-Richmond leg is not owned by Amtrak (I believe), CSX should have dispatching authority down there and they're going to favor their locos over Amtrak's and decide when/where track work will take place - assuming the track work in question will occur on those branches and not fixing the inevitable yard damage up the other Richmond, where the accident happened.

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owned, dispatched, and maintained by CSX, not Amtrak. And, even if initial reports less than 24 hours after a crash suggest that a track issue may have played a role, it is highly improbable that CSX would say "Oh wow, we've got to get crews out there immediately and replace rails and ties on several miles of track at once."

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Departed New Haven for Boston at about 4 PM. Scheduled trains were running between 10 minutes to over 1 hour late.

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