Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Metrorail Shows Good Thinking

Just got my November '08 copy of Railway Track and Structures, and was pleased to read a story about how Metrorail dealt with a Track Inspector who failed to identify poor track (scroll down to October 17) that ultimately led to the derailment on June 9th of Train 905 near their Court House Station. I read this article wondering if that Inspector was "let go" as a result. I was gratified that such was not the case!

I was even more gratified to read that Metrorail has put into place a great deal of effort to insure that a similar superficial inspection was less likely to happen again. The inspector was not fired, but retrained. Further, Metrorail has installed a new Track Inspector Certification Program involving both written and other practical exams, and has made the Program mandatory for not only new but also current Track Inspectors. I was amazed to read that Metrorail employs a total of thirty-seven track inspectors, and that they all had completed the new training program by mid-October.

To be sure, as you read the article you will learn that the inspector failed to comply with many existing directives. To be sure, readers of Rip Track have, in the past, been critical of some of Metrorail's policies and operational practices. But this has to be seen as a step in the right direction when compared with what was traditionally done.

When I was climbing up the engineering organizational chart, the normal procedure was to send a new recruit out to inspect track without much more training than that recruit had learned as a laborer/machine operator/foreman. Such training could be good or bad, depending on who the recruit had worked for. In other words, a good boss equaled good training, and vice versa. If the new recruit was lucky, and learned the nuances of his trade, survival! If, on the other hand, the recruit shared the experience of our Metrorail Inspector, it was "back to your tools."

Metrorail's approach is better, more proactive. Good on 'em!

And, Happy Thanksgiving, too!


At 3:34 AM, November 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see that they're finally growing up into a real railroad, and taking maintenance as seriously as it should be taken. They've even getting their very own track geometry train soon, so they'll actually be able to know what's going on with their tracks,

At 10:14 AM, November 27, 2008, Blogger John said...

On the other hand, I'm wondering about context here, and I'm a little disappointed that you haven't followed up on your promise to provide more info on the two Metrolink collisions in Southern California. (I'll be happy to provide some links to news articles and informed discussion on some railfan forums.)

The Rialto sideswipe from last week was followed this past Tuesday by an Amtrak engineer failing a banner test, which, according to a commenter who appears to be in train service, you have to be either "asleep or texting" to fail. I pursued a similar issue with informed commenters on another forum, who, when asked how the conductor in the Rialto sideswipe could (after hearing a yellow called by the engineer over the radio) have ignored the fact (established apparently by the NTSB) that the engineer wasn't slowing down, and that there was a freight moving into the siding on the next track. The answer was basically that many conductors are "oblivious". Great.

Maybe drunk or stoned would be more accurate? I'v got to wonder if there isn't a widespread management failure across much of the industry. You note that you went over Metrorail's org chart, but one conclusion seems to have gone unnoticed: maybe the departures need to take place elsewhere in the organization.

The banner test the Amtrak engineer flunked on Tuesday apparently resulted only because the FRA came to town. Why are we paying "managers" up and down the industry if they aren't conducting their own tests, or making sure their people conduct them?

Someone really ought to be flipping burgers here who isn't. Great someone got retrained -- but why are all these dysfunctional suits who are responsible for the bad situations still around?

Still waiting for your take on Metrolink, but I'm starting to anticipate you'll say that everyone got retrained, and it's all just hunky dory,

At 1:00 PM, November 27, 2008, Blogger John said...

I'd had this blog recommended to me by someone else after the Rialto sideswipe, so I hadn't looked at earlier posts. But now, curious, I've checked what you had to say about the Chatsworth tragedy, and it extends only as far as saying we "shouldn't jump to conclusions", as the evil media does.

Of course, it's long since been established via phone records that the engineer had been texting seconds before the head-on, and it appears that his texting had also prevented him from seeing the red at the previous control point. You haven't updated your opinions since that time.

The only other people who've been urging us not to "jump to conclusions" about Chatsworth have been, insofar as I can tell, certain of the union brothers and sisters of the deceased Chatsworth engineer. I'm sort of puzzled as to what additional info you're planning to provide us on this accident.

The best information we have, including quite a bit from the NTSB on the Rialto collision, is that AGAIN there were multiple failures on the part of the Metrolink crew to maintain situational awareness and observe numerous rules. In Rialto, there were two people in the cab, who failed to observe a rule to reduce speed at a yellow signal, and a conductor who failed to order the engineer to slow down at the yellow he had called, or failing that, to pull the emergency cord. According to the NTSB, the Metrolink train's brakes were functioning at the site of the crash.

Are you suggesting I'm jumping to conclusions here? I'm starting to wonder, Rip, if you're, as they say, part of the problem.

At 5:58 PM, December 02, 2008, Blogger Rip said...

Am I part of the problem? I certainly hope not . . .

John, thanks for your comments. You have been salient, concise and, believe it or not, have mirrored many of my own opinions. I am sorry for not posting an update to the Chatsworth tragedy, it is due to a surprisingly high level of workload at my day job. A few thoughts are in order here, nonetheless.

The facts are indisputable now, that the Engineer of the Metrolink train at Rialto was clearly to blame for the incident, due to his preoccupations. If the Brotherhood attempts to defend these negligent actions, they all should be ashamed. But how about some of these "dysfunctional suits" in management?

Clearly, blame falls here, too. Surely, this was probably not the first time this particular Engineer was texting, and he was probably not the only Metrolink Engineer who has been texting while at the throttle of a train. First Level Management should have been aware of this situation, and clearly should have responded with preventive discipline. Although I do not ride Metrolink often, I have seen things like doors closing on still-boarding riders that lead me to believe that management is looking the other way.

My comments concerning Rialto will not provide sparkling insight, but will concentrate on the resulting litigation and government regulation. My message will say to these commuter and light rail agencies that, if you do not do your job as managers, someone else will do it, and you will certainly not like the result!

One small point: I hope that Metrorail is not being confused with Metrolink. One appears to be somewhat more proactive, the other, well, it remains to be seen.

John, if you have links to provide, please do so. I will also provide my own, but the more the better.

At 1:14 PM, December 03, 2008, Blogger John said...

There’s an informative discussion on the Rialto sideswipe and related issues on a railfan boazrd at,20035,20035#msg-20035 A couple of “officials” (apparently) with rules experience provide some useful information but eventually, in my opinion, become obstructionist, assisted by a couple of union members.

There have been two related developments as well. In one, it was reported on another railfan board that on Tuesday, November 25, an Amtrak Surfliner failed a “banner test” at CP College in Fullerton, CA, on a train to San Diego. This was on Metrolink trackage, but it was an Amtrak train. It’s not clear who was running the test, as the FRA had come to town and was cracking down. Commentary by anonymous working railroaders suggested that, under such a test, if you actually run over the banner and THEN put the train into emergency, as this engineer did, there’s a big, big problem.

Also, it came to light that in October on Tri-Rail in West Palm Beach, an Amtrak train ran a red signal, came within less than 150 feet of opening a Tri Rail cab car like a sardine can, and then backed up without authorization from the dispatcher. This was covered up and only came to light because a Tri Rail staff member was riding the Tri Rail train and couldn’t help seeing the conductor running down the aisle yelling that there was going to be a wreck!

Comments by working railroaders, especially “officials” on discussion boards, suggest a circle the wagons mentality. This isn’t the public’s business, the public is just going to jump to conclusions about who was responsible. In fact, in today’s LA Times there’s a new effort to rehabilitate the engineer who was texting in the Chatsworth disaster.,0,2151402.story

(However, this article does focus farther down on the responsibility of engineers and conductors to call and confirm signals – I sent an e-mail to the LA Times reporters on this when they hadn’t mentioned it, and they may have brought it up in response to my e-mail On the other hand, I told them it also was the responsibility of the train in the Rialto sideswipe to communicate with the engineer when he failed to slow immediately at the yellow, and if necessary to pull the emergency brake, and they really didn’t discuss this – quite probably because they were talking with the union rep.) The LA Times has been getting stuff garbled, which serves to protect Veolia and Metrolink management, as well as the politicians that make up the Metrolink board.

Not a good several weeks for the industry, and I get the feeling that reporters, “officials”, and pols have no real sense of urgency. I will certainly make doubly sure I board all future Metrolink trains in the middle car.

By the way, I understand the difference between Metrolink and Metro Rail, though a reference to location in your posts would be very helpful for many readers.


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