Safety Impact #1: Two Car Lengths

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Introduction

The impact of the proposed third track through the Town of Ashland can be divided into the following three categories:

  1. Safety/Environmental;
  2. Cultural: the impact on historical buildings and sites; and
  3. Economic.

We are publishing a series of posts illustrating concerns to do with all three areas. The first post in the series fell into the “Cultural” category; it was to do with loss of access to a home that General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson slept in on his way to the Seven Days’ Battle in 1862.

We now move on to safety: the safety of the people riding on the trains and of the people living and working in the communities that the trains traverse.

Recent Incidents

One way of understanding safety issues is to examine other, related events and to determine what lessons can be learned from them. In this case we are looking for incidents involving high speed rail passing through a community such as Ashland.

The Table below lists just some of the major incidents to do with high speed rail that have occurred within the last five years.

Year Location Number of fatalities
 2011 Wenzhou, China 40
 2013 Santiago de Compostela, Spain 79
 2015 Strasbourg, France. 5
 2015 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States 8

In addition to the 132 fatalities listed many other people were injured, some of them grievously.

The following 7 second clip of the Santiago de Compostela crash illustrates what it looks like when a high speed train comes off the tracks.

High Speed Train Crash-cropped

It appears as if all of these events took place in open countryside. Hence all the people killed and injured were passengers and crew on the trains involved. Were such an event to take place in Ashland it is likely that many people living and working in the community would also be victims.

The Philadelphia Crash

Of the incidents listed above the one that is of most interest to the residents of Ashland is the Philadelphia crash that event occurred on May 12, 2015 because (a) it involved Amtrak and (b) it occurred almost in our own backyard. (The map shows the location of Frankford — it is just 240 miles from Ashland.)

Frankford-1

The Event

The following are key elements of the Frankford crash based on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) review. (The published information is not a single report; it consists of a docket of documents, last updated March 10, 2016.)

  • Amtrak passenger train #188 derailed, after entering a curve at 106 mph where the speed is restricted to 50 mph.
  • Of the 250 passengers and eight Amtrak employees who were on board, eight passengers were killed and more than 200 others were transported to area hospitals.
  • Preliminary information suggested that the derailment was accidental. By early June authorities admitted that they still could not understand the reason for the incident.
  • The engine was . . . only a year old and had no reported history of unintended acceleration.
  • The engineer (driver) was not talking on the phone, texting or using smartphone data during the accident.
  • The NTSB has told Congress that human error is a likely factor.

Lessons Learned

The picture below shows the location of the cars of the train following the crash.

Emergency workers look through the remains of a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It can be seen that the derailed cars are at least two car lengths from the tracks. Given that these cars are about 85 ft. long this means that they traveled at least 160 ft. The sketch below shows the impact that such an event would have in Ashland (the circle is centered on the England St./Railroad Ave. intersection).

Ashland-Impact-1

Conclusion

The preliminary analysis presented here indicates that major incidents involving high speed trains do occur and that their consequences can be very serious. Furthermore, using the Amtrak Train #188 event as an example, a high speed derailment in the Town of Ashland would likely impact many people living and working in the community.

The project team has indicated that, were high speed trains to run through Ashland, they would operate at speeds considerably less than the 106 mph reported for Train #188. But that train was operating in a 50 mph limit area — not that different from what is proposed for Ashland. Moreover, if “high speed trains” are to actually operate at low speeds then it begs the question as to why the project is justified.

It is recommended that the team currently developing the Tier II report thoroughly investigate events such as those listed in this post, conduct a formal risk analysis and demonstrate to the community of Ashland that such an event could not realistically take place here.

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