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Re: Derailment in 207 St Yard
Hot Times on the High Iron for June 2013 Today, We're Just Scraping By.
Well first off, I know this is actually July, but I didn’t get this one finished in time to get it out in June. But I began writing this particular diatribe in June so guess that counts for something, doesn't it? Well to all of my followers here in the United States (gee, sounds like a cult or something, doesn't it? Would that make me “Reverend Tuch? Dig deep and send me your money!!), I want to wish you all a safe, healthy and happy Independence Day. I'll be working but here's hoping you'll be with family or friends and have a great day. For my Canadian followers, a slightly belated Happy Dominion Day to you. I know they call it Canada Day now but it nonetheless, it is your day so hope it was a good one for all of you too.
First off, with today's feature I need to explain a segmented interlocking to you. An arrangement of signals, signal appliances and switches (normally some type of power or dual control switch or switches) comprise an interlocking, also known as a control point. These signals and switches are controlled by a control operator or a train dispatcher. They can be operated locally or by remote control. As control towers have been disappearing into history, most control points are now operated remotely by train dispatchers.
Within control points are bonds also known as insulated joints. All movements have to clear these bonds before any switches within the control point can be operated. If you have ever been close enough to observe these bonds, they are usually blue or green, or sometimes yellow. They are also referred to glue joints or epoxy joints on some railroads too. These bonds are normally located at the controlling signals to govern the entrance to the control point. Now within many control points are additional bonds usually at the clearance points of switches. This can allow a train dispatcher or control operator to change the line up of the switches within the control point behind a train. This can only be accomplished after a train or engine has passed over the switches and particular bonds involved. If a crew is making a switching move through a control point, they can stop after they clear the bonds but without having the clear the signals and the entire plant, the dispatcher will change the route by operating the necessary switches, then give the crew permission to reverse their direction and that the route is line for their movement. This feature allows for improved usage of a control point and efficiency in making moves. Such an arrangement requires rules to protect them as well.
There is a rule in the rule book that requires trains and engines must first secure permission, these days called “authority” from the dispatcher or control operator before changing directions within the control point. That is because of the segmenting and the fact the switches can be changed while a train is still within the plant. When you don't secure permission, bad things can happen. Sometimes, bad things happen within segmented control points where directions weren't changed or when somebody controlling such a control point does something wrong and the train crew is in the clear. And that is what we will discuss in today's little diatribe.
The following story is true, none of the names or locations have been changed because I no longer work there and they can't retaliate against me with discipline or dismissal. Nor can they sue me because they were found guilty. Boowahahahahahahahahaha!!!
It was an evening in October 2011. I was working train 336 out of Glenn Yard. My conductor was Fernando Robles this evening. We had done our work at Glenn after taking over from the inbound crew and finally departed. As we headed out north on the Joliet Sub they crossed us over to number one track and we worked our way towards Bridgeport in Chicago. The dispatcher calls us and informs us we will have to wait at Cermak, the control point east of Bridgeport and just before 21st Street as there is congestion ahead and they need to get Amtrak 304 around us before we can pull all the way to 21st Street and points east and south. So we pull up to Cermak and obediently stop and wait.
“A stopped train is a safe train.”
We wait for about fifty or so minutes for Amtrak to catch us and run around our 130 plus car train. Now a train this long will be hanging back into the Bridgeport control point behind us. There was a train on main two at Glenn Yard when we departed there earlier and it wasn't going to be leaving anytime soon so like us, Amtrak had to use main one north out of there. To get around us this people train would have to cross over to main 2. Now the logical choice here would have been to have them cross over to main 2 at CP Rockwell which is located between Corwith and CP Brighton Park. There is a 25 mph crossover there which makes it the logical place to cross the train over. Remember, I said logical.
Back to Cermak, we're waiting while 304 is coming north. After sitting for awhile I head down to the dungeon to “answer the call” as it were. As I exit the facilities and start coming back up into the cab the people train passes us there. Fernando points out to me the conductor on Amtrak was standing in an open vestibule door giving him some kind of hand sign he has never seen before. We discuss it for a moment and move on to other topics
About twenty minutes passes and the dispatcher calls us and tells me not to move the train. Being that I still have a stop signal, I inform him of such and tell him I'm not going anywhere. He responds by telling me that should the signal change to a more favorable signal, not to take it and not to move. Okay, we'll wait. I'm good at waiting. Hell, I'm great at waiting, nobody waits better than me. So as we wait Fernando and I mull over what this was all about when the dispatcher calls and tell us the rear car of the train needs to be inspected. It seems that Amtrak sideswiped up our train as he was coming around us. So after some discussion about this latest event, Fernando gears up and heads back to take a look.
As he is heading back I'm speculating as to how we got hit. I knew the train, because of it's length, was hanging back into the plant at Bridgeport. I was thinking logically that the dispatcher crossed 304 over to main 2 at Rockwell to get him around us. There was my first mistake, I was thinking logically.
Finally Fernando gets back to the tail end of the train and calls me. He reports the rear car has fresh new damage, the grab irons and hand rails on the car are torn up and the damage is fresh. I contact the dispatcher and inform him of Fernando's find. He tells us we will be there for awhile as they have to investigate. I respond that we will be patiently waiting.
There is a fish place close to the tracks and I was going to go over and get something to eat since we were going to be there for awhile. So I make a full service reduction with the automatic brake valve and head out the door to apply hand brakes to the engines. While out there I decide I don't need the fish as I am still trying to lose some weight, so I instead go back into the cab of the engine and wait for Fernando to get back and also the arrival of whomever is investigating this episode.
Fernando gets back and we discuss the events that have transpired. Eventually the road foreman of engines arrives and enlightens us as to what happened. Unlike what we had speculated the dispatcher did not cross Amtrak over at Rockwell, he brought him up to Bridgeport to cross him over behind us there. Apparently on the dispatcher's screen he saw that we were clear of the crossovers behind our train within the plant there and decided to cross him over there. Now again, the logic thing; why not cross him over at the 25 mph crossovers at Rockwell where he'll get a more favorable signal than restricting? No, lets cross him over at Bridgeport where it is a 10 mph crossover and he'll get a restricting and now have to run restricted speed for a mile and a half and slow him down more. No room for logic at the Cartoon Network Railway. We discussed this very thought with the road foreman as well and he agreed with us.
So I can't figure out how they hit us if we were supposed to be clear of the switches. Apparently, the engine and the head couple of cars made it by us okay but the next four cars in the train were what came in contact with the last car in our train. The Amtrak engineer tried to claim that we must have shoved back and into their train. Well we know that didn't happen, I was sitting still and had been sitting still for the better part of an hour when he hit us. We were told that one of the Amfleet coaches sustained a 23 foot gash in the side and another car had windows knocked out. Now what I wondered was, why didn't they stop immediately when this occurred contacting both us and the dispatcher? This was a significant hit and somebody had to notice. They didn't stop and instead went the rest of the way in to Union Station and reported the episode some twenty minutes after it occurred. When they saw the damage is when the claim was made that we backed into them.
Once the CN was notified operations immediately, using the satellite link, dumped the event recorder to see what what I was doing at the time of the episode. The road foreman who came to investigate, Chuck Davis, told us it was clear we weren't moving and that I was in compliance buy having ten pounds of air set on the brake pipe while sitting. He noticed and questioned that after about an hour or so the brake pipe pressure was reduced again, this time to full service. He thought this action was odd. I explained that I was intending to go get some fish so I was properly securing the train and he laughed. He also pulled the hard drive from the “crash cam” so they could watch it and prove through the wonderful world of high tech video that I wasn't moving.
Now in any episode such as this, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration have to be notified and they in turn, send out investigators to figure out what happened and what went wrong. I was fully expecting them to request our presence for questioning. Interestingly enough, they never did ask us to appear. Instead they took the information from the accident reports submitted by Fernando and I and the information they gathered in the field at the accident site. Nor did we get called to any investigation or inquiry that Amtrak conducted either. Rats, I was really hoping to have to appear before panels, boards and maybe even congress. I would've been happy to go them and get away from work, with pay. Boy I always miss out on all those fun things.
After the NTSB and FRA investigated they discovered the cause, an improper signal test when the plant at Bridgeport was reconfigured in the mid 1990's. When the Illinois Central reconfigured the plant at Bridgeport they installed all new switches and signals. Whenever they install new signals and switches, the railroads are required to perform signal tests. Any possible variant of routes and signals have to be run and certified that everything, including signals displayed are correct. A permanent record of all these tests must be kept in the event of an event occurring. After meticulous checking by the government agencies, there were two discoveries made; one signal test was never conducted. It was the one for the situation my train was in, within the control point, clear of the bonds and the switches lined and signals checked. And the other discover was the bonds protecting this particular crossover switch were set too close to the switch, inside what is known as the clearance point. This allowed the last car of my train to be too close to the switch but the switch to be able to be lined and the signal protecting it display a proceed indication.
Why was this never checked? Nobody could answer that question. But, the feds were able to respond. They fined Cartoon Network for this failure. Even though it wasn't a CN property at that time, they assume any and all responsibilities for what transpired prior to their ownership as they are the “surviving” company after the merger with the IC. And what is amazing is that this plant had been in service for over fifteen years without some sort of episode prior to that night.
In any event, that set of crossovers was removed from service at Bridgeport. When I left CN in October of 2012, they were still out of service. Go figure.
Now what I was never able to figure out was how the engine and the head two cars of the people train were able to get by the last car of my train without making contact. I can maybe understand the engine as it is not as long as an Amfleet coach and has less swing in the curve of the crossover. But the next two cars are exactly the same size and length as the rest of the cars in the train. Nobody ever provided an answer to that question for me either.
Guess that will remain another one of those unexplained mysteries of railroading.
And so it goes.
Tuch Hot Times on the High Iron and the HTOTHI initials are both ©2013 by JD “Tuch” Santucci
Copied by permission.
Lion did respond to Tuch that the placement of trucks vis a vis the car ends bear a relationship to the belly overhang. Sway could of course account for this too.