Reflecting on Amtrak 501 derailment tragedy and lessons for Solutionary Rail

December 20th at 5 pm (Pacific) RSVP BELOW.  

Our deepest condolences for the loved ones of those who perished at the Amtrak 501 derailment.  Two of the victims were respected rail champions Zack Willhoite and Jim Hamre from the board of All Aboard Washington. In their honor and the benefit of our society we must ask:

What are the lessons to learn from this tragedy?

How can we overcome the broad ignorance and apathy that is broadly apparent in the coverage of this derailment? 

What are the lessons and responsibilities of the Solutionary Rail campaign going forward?

We will discuss these and other issues as well as clarify the known-knowns of the Amtrak 501 derailment (see below).

First, here's a quote from the excellent LA Times article: (Full article HERE)

The three dead on the train included two rail aficionados, Zack Willhoite and Jim Hamre, who were on board for the inaugural journey.

Willhoite worked as an IT customer service support specialist for Pierce Transit, a Pierce County transit agency.

“Behind the scenes he was a writer and advocate for better transit for all,” tweeted Pierce Transit board member Chris Karnes, a crash survivor, who said Willhoite had also helped the board with IT issues. “He will be missed.”

Hamre was a board member for the Rail Passengers Assn., a transit advocacy group, and he formerly worked at the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“Jim combined personability and kindness, and paired it with an intricate and detailed knowledge of transit policy and technical insight,” the association said in a statement. “This made him an extremely powerful advocate and an inspiration for others.” Willhoite was also a member of the association.

Now for the information and corrections to disinformation thus far:
[This is a growing list and will be updated]

  • The Amtrak Cascades route DOES NOT qualify as "High-speed rail" (HSR)  Definition here
  • The Amtrak Cascades route DOES NOT qualify as "Higher-speed rail" (HrSR) Definition here 
  • The Talgo cars seemed to have performed really well in terms of structural integrity despite the crash. Their passive tilt design helps keep wheels on the tracks at high speeds - despite centrifugal force: 
    • The equipment used as described by WSDOT on Amtrak Cascades here "Talgo trains are different from passenger trains typically used in the United States and Canada. They are articulated, which means the train cars operate as a set: adjacent cars share axles and wheels and function as a single, complete unit. This increases stability and improves safety and the smoothness of the ride."  More on Talgo train sets here.
  • A super-elevated curve would have been a track infrastructure improvement that would increase the possible track speed at the curve where the derailment occurred.  
  • Positive Train Control would have prevented the crash if it was due to human error
  • Situational awareness is required of engineers at all times. The engineer(s) would have had a book of permanent speed restrictions on the route. Temporary speed restriction are supplied daily. Moment to moment speed restrictions are given by dispatcher.  
  • Human error is likely due to no report of brake failure and that there were reportedly 2 engineers on the train, thus heart failure or incapacitation seems unlikely
  • The stretch of track was originally built to 1890's standards
  • The curve and bridge were made MORE sharp when I-5 was built in order to avoid a 45 degree freeway overpass that would have been more expensive.
  • Track improvements such as new concrete ties were added on other parts of the route and some on Nisqually Bypass, but not in the area of the accident.
  • ?? Was the 14 mile Nisqually bypass was part of $181 million corridor improvement or did it alone cost $181mil? 
RSVP BELOW to receive the call-in instructions, including how to join our Zoom video conference from your smartphone or computer.

We are thrilled to add this conversation to our growing collection of diverse insights about the intersections of Solutionary Rail with the great work allies new and old are engaged in across the country.  Check out the Solutionary Perspectives video series HERE

Forward Together!

Bill, Diane and the Solutionary Rail Team

PS - Pitch-in with a tax deductible donation to decarbonize our energy and transportation infrastructure HERE! 

December 20, 2017 at 5:00pm - 6pm
Zoom video conference call
Bill Moyer ·

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