Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Insights Amtrak Train No. 188 Accident.

Noted transportation reporter, Don Phillips, in the September 2015 issue of Trains magazine shared some thoughts about engineer Brandon Bostian. Basically, it is a mystery as to what happened to have provoked Bostian's acctions on May 12, 2015. Phillips  writes that Mr. Bostian has the respect of the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. He is a "by-the-book railroader." He has cooperated fully.

The frustrating thing is that Mr. Bostian has had memory loos. He is unable to provide the whole picture.

The memory loss could have resulted from the trauma of the accident. There has been speculation by some that an undiagnosed medical condition might have been contributory. Petit mal seizure? A difficult to diagnose epileptic event? It is speculation.

The investigators, Phillips reports, have determined no problems with the track or roadbed. Bostian applied the brakes before the derailment.

Bostian's cell phone was not sending or receiving  a signal at or near the time of the accident.

Phillips wrote that the hole in the windshield was determined by the FBI to not have been a result of bullet. The investigation continues as to the cause of the windshield hole. It did not exist when the train left 30th Street Station.

Further speculation has developed around the throttle in the locomotive operated by Bostian. His previous run during his workday was in a locomotive with the throttle that was a reverse configuration.  Was there an impact to the windshield of sufficient impact to have startle and frightened Bostian to have moved the throttle the wrong direction causing him to accelerate. The capability of the locomotive's acceleration is remarkable. So, might it be determined that sequence of events was windshield damage, acceleration, temporary confusion of judgement, brake application, derailment ending with Bostian's reaction to use his cellphone to call for aid?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Frankford Junction History

The curve at Frankford Junction  was designed and built for the Connecting Railroad in 1864 and opened for service in July of 1867. The Connecting Railroad was later absorbed into the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was aptly named as it connected PRR tracks with railroad company tracks crossing New Jersey to the Port of New York. Operations were possible over the slightly wider gauge of the new Jersey Railroads using cars with wide treads. The PRR was standard gauge of 4 feet 8 and a half inches. The New Jersey roads were 4 feet 10 inches.

The historical civil engineering represented by the curve is totally inadequate for today or the future.

(See Churella, The Pennsylvania Railroad Volume I at page 299.)

Comments May 12 Amtrak Derailment Frankford Junction, Philadelphia

(Click on photo for full size of photo and data.) Here is a photo of the May 12, 2015, Amtrak derailment at the Frankford Junction curve in Philadelphia. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 identify parts of the fractured structural steel beam broken by the derailing train colliding with it as it passed. 4 (to the right of 5) identifies the crumpled remains of the first car behind the locomotive. 4 is in the center of the folded car with cranes to the left and right. 5 is the second car of the reaming six car string. The specially designed passenger car couplers did their job for the six cars as the cars did not separate. Had they had been connected with freight couplers the cars would have parted. Since about 1910 USA passenger cars have been designed for the frame to withstand 800,000 pounds of buff force. No other country has such a standard. 6 is the locomotive. Its right side headlight was damaged. 7 is the outside rail on the curve. It is higher than the inside rail opposite. That is referred to as the super elevated curve. Super elevation allows for faster speed through a curve like a race car track. The curve was rated at 50 miles per hour by the original owner and builder, the Pennsylvania Railroad. The current owner, Amtrak also has a 50 mile per hour speed restriction on the curve. The steel beam above and across the tracks at 8 suspends an electric wire above each track. A spring loaded device on the locomotive with a roller at the top contacts the wire and collects electric power to propel the electric motors driving the locomotive. The wires and steel beam supports are called catenary. I think that the locomotive grazed the catenary support enough for the first car to fully collide and fold. The locomotive separated and came to rest at 6. The firt car was pushed by the following cars to 4. As soon as the air brake line was severed from the locomotive the string of cars brakes activated explaining why the last two remained upright as the energy of the cars dissipated . Centrifugal force took the equipment to the right on a left curve.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tax Gas in the Pipelines to Help Solve Transportation Funding Crisis | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

Tax Gas in the Pipelines to Help Solve Transportation Funding Crisis | ENR: Engineering News Record | McGraw-Hill Construction

High Speed Rail and Freight

Virtually every discussion for high speed rail (125mph plus) simply addresses passenger service. For that matter it is the same for higher speed rail (110mph limit).

How does the economics of higher and high speed rail change when it might be applied to package and less than truckload business? What are the opportunities? Would a combined service make more sense than exclusively passenger?

OK Where Are We Now?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has an overwhelmed and aged Interstate highway system.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a railroad system based upon civil engineering design from the 1850's.

The airline system is choked by the national quagmire that it is a part.

The waterborne system is composed of three distinct and unrelated transport types. The Port of Philadelphia accommodates seagoing vessels. The Port of Erie accommodates seagoing and Great Lakes vessels. The Port of Pittsburgh accommodates barge tows on the inland waterway. Each port has a unique economy with which it competes. Each has major upkeep and maintenance issues. And, all of them are creatures of the Army Corps of Engineers.

This blog looks at the railroad mode for the opportunities it might have for restoration of passenger rail service.

There is potential to increase passenger rail service between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg despite the line being the product of 1850's civil engineering. How can that be accomplished as the existing railroad from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg is a freight railroad (Norfolk Southern)? How can it be in the interest of the privately owned freight railroad to deal with additional passenger trains on a line now at historic freight train levels? Additional passenger trains will interfere with freight operations.

The acceptable rail passenger service levels between Harrisburg and Philadelphia are delivered using a rail line owned by a passenger railroad (Amtrak). But, even that route has leftover 1850's civil engineering line placement. For example, grade and curvature in the vicinity of Parkesburg, PA requires a speed restriction that otherwise would be avoided if the line were designed today.

Even if a dual purpose electric locomotive convertible to diesel propulsion beyond the reach of overhead electric wires were applied to the freight line east of Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, the passenger train still must face the gauntlet of freight traffic and the curvature and grades of the line.

The Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line could be improved with speed and capacity improvements. Theoretically it can be capable of 110 mile per hour speeds. It would require easing of curvature at a number of points. What is the logic of patching together a series of fixes in comparison with alternatives? Yes, the lift over the Allegheny frontal over the famous Horseshoe curve is obsolete and costly and slow. It could be eliminated by a whole new straight 17 mile line of one per cent gradient from the vicinity of Tyrone, PA to the vicinity of Cresson, PA. Curvature and gradient easing would benefit freight operations.

The alternative for the west to east Pittsburgh line? Complete replacement.

There is a reason that the the American Society of Civil Engineers with boring regularity gives the country a grade of D.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Governor Elect Tom Wolf

Governor elect Tom Wolf in his stump speech running up to election during the last week of the campaign made a general point of Pennsylvania remaining in a keystone position for transportation.
A great deal of commerce originates, terminates or crosses the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The anticipated growth of the American economy by 2035 will see numerous chokepoints on the railroad system and the highway system that do not exist now.

The 1854 civil engineering of the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Keystone Corridor West is in and by itself a chokepoint.

The key to railroad operation and design is to minimize the grades the railroad has. In 1906 a route was survey for the proposed New York Chicago and Pittsburgh railroad across the length of Pennsylvania. The line as located would not have exceeded 0.04 of 1 per cent. It had great gradients but its curvature would have affected the potential speed. The point is that a route with easy grades across Pennsylvania's Alleghenies is possible.

Could a p3 public private private partnership examine the 1906 proposed location for gradient and in turn identify a low gradient route across the center of Pennsylvania for a true high speed railroad right of way for 230 mph operations? Given that it is possible, then why can't a new high speed railroad  be built connecting New York to Chicago that is controlled by Pennsylvania through a p3?

The proposed high speed railroad right of way would include in its proximity parallel higher speed track that would accommodate freight operations and higher speed passnger operations. It would supplant the 1854 civil engineering of the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg line. The higher speed track could be available for operation of high speed equipment at slower speeds when maintenance is being done on the high speed line. The new line would eliminate the 1854 chokepoint.

The proposed new railroad would be the keystone in a new transportation for the country east of the Mississippi River.