Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Update on Amtrak derailment in Niles, MI

The National Transportation Safety Board gave an update yesterday (Tuesday, Oct. 23) on the derailment of Amtrak Wolverine #350 this past Sunday, where the train hit a misaligned switch, sending it off the mainline and into a small rail yard. From this Chicago Tribune report and this Detroit News report, we get the following details:
  • The train had a green signal prior to hitting the switch.
  • The train hit the switch at about 60 mph. The jolt knocked the engineer to the floor, but he was able to hit the emergency brake.
  • There was a derail device on the track to the yard, but it did not have any effect on the fast, heavy train locomotive. The train ultimately derailed 290 feet beyond the switch.
  • The train came to a stop 21 feet away from empty hopper cars (for carrying ballast) that were parked in the yard.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this line is supposed to have Positive Train Control signaling installed to prevent dangerous situations like this from happening. The details thus far reinforce my belief that the switch involved was simply not wired into the signaling system, since a "reversed" switch would have changed the signal to either a stop or some other indication telling the engineer that the train could only proceed at low speed. But, other possibilities remain, such as an improper design to the PTC hardware or software, a fault that went undetected, or even a broken switch that failed just as the train went over it.

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