TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Amtrak Passengers Stranded in Woods in Georgia

Re: Amtrak Passengers Stranded in Woods in Georgia
1 Jan 2006 21:47:23 -0800

> As we sat there, I got up to look around; the two cars behind us
> were flattened like accordions, 200 plus people were killed in our
> train.

My employer at that time did an engineering study of the accident.

It was a terrible accident, but the death toll was around 40, not 200.

Some people said the trains should've been strong enough to withstand
the impact without telecscoping into each other. But the civil
engineers pointed out that if the trains were that strong, the
resulting 'g' shock force would've been strong enough to kill all the
passengers on board.

IIRC, the problem was that when the first train overshot the platform,
it cleared the signal block so that the second train could proceed.
Then the first train in backing up re-entered the block. I believe
the engineer was supposed to call in for permission before backing up
and have the rear-end protected. The Illionis Central ran a very
heavy density of service.

I was on a subway train that overshot the platform by a considerable
distance not long after that. The motorman did call in for permission
before backing up, but I was thinking of the IC wreck and was kind of
nervous about it.

If you look on many subway and trolley cars, you'll see the "bumpers"
have ridges on them. They are known as "anti-climbers" and are
supposed to protect from trains telescoping into each other if they

As to your experiences, as mentioned, the railroads were losing money
big time on their trains and most had applied to discontinue them.
Some railroads had only one or two trains to run so they didn't mind
as much doing a decent job, but they still wanted out. Indeed, the
song "City of New Orleans" that you mention is about the decay of the

Western Union likewise had a nice operation in 1950. That company
went bankrupt and no longer exists, the Western Union today bought the
name. Lousy Govt regulation played a role in that demise. Even in
1960 Western Union _seemed_ healthy but it was on the skids.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Did you see that nice picture of me on
the front page of the Chicago Daily News? They printed my entire
testimony to the safety inspector. The train engineer had admitted he
overshot the station platform 'just a little'. In my testimony I said
that was nonsense, he overshot sufficiently that looking outside the
window of the car I was sitting in, I looked directly at a 'mile
marker' sign hanging on a catenary pole; I told them which sign it was
and the audience 'gasped' when the distance the train had to go
backward was calculated. It was a distance of a couple hundred feet
at least.

Also, you just now spoke about the 'g-force' of the trains hitting,
but where you are wrong about that was the train I was on (which got
smacked up pretty good) was one of the newer, more 'light-weight' and
more flimsy cars. The train which hit us was one of the older, grey
colored very heavy cars from the 1920's genre. I discussed that in my
testimony also, saying in effect "if I were to ride downtown on one of
the newer cars and take along with me a heavy, large size 'phillips
screw-driver' I could take the entire car apart before we got to
downtown. Made as they were out of aluminum, the newer cars were no
match for the older style cars." One of the railroad executives at
that point made an objection to my testimony; told me to shut my trap
and keep myself stifled and not talk anymore, but the hearing officer
in charge of the testimony over-ruled his objection to my speech and
encouraged me to keep talking about my experiences with the new style
cars. That same afternoon when the hearing reconvened after lunch they
took me down to the trackside to (a) point out the 'mile marker' where
_I_ was sitting when we started backing up and (b) they gave me a
large, sturdy tool to use to demonstrate how I could unscrew one of
the wall panels in the coach. The Daily News article the next day told
how the railroad had told me to shut up and not talk so much; they
put my picture and my oral testimony in the paper entirely, along with
the other reports, etc. The company which had built the new cars for
the railroad looked at me with much hatred, to say the least.

There were other incidental situations where a 'new' car was bumped
by an old car (they did that as part of their testing) and even though
the 'old' car just barely bumped the 'new car' there were still dent
marks on the 'new' car. The "Chicago Today" newspaper (which we had
back then, like the Daily News, but no longer) agreed with the
railroad that I was a crazy person, but the Daily News did not think so.
My friend (who I said a couple days ago I had taken to New Orleans
with me on vacation earlier) called the railroad one day to report
(by car number and axle number) a 'flat wheel' on one of the new cars.
(A 'flat wheel' is one that is not entirely round, at a certain place
in the circumference of the wheel it is a bit out of shape; the result
is a person with a good ear or lots of railroad experience [as he had]
can hear a certain 'chunk-chunk' noise as the train rapidly moves down
the track). The railroad told him off good also, but then a day or two
later called him back to say they had investigated it and found it to
be as he said it was. Those 'new' cars were no match for the 'older'
(1920-ish) cars they abandoned for no good reason. PAT]

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