September 14, 2008

Dozens killed as trains crash head-on in LA

A commuter train slammed head-first into a freight train in the San Fernando Valley, killing a couple of dozen (so far).

This should not happen in 2008.

Preventing head-on train collisions was the fundamental problem that modern American business management evolved to handle. A head-on crash in 1843 led to a national debate: should all railroads be built with two lines, like almost all roads are built with lanes running in each direction, to prevent head-on collisions? To avoid the enormous expense of double lines while not killing passengers in head-on crashes either, the Pennsylvania Railroad invented many of the techniques of modern management. It became the first gigantic company in American history, with as many as 250,000 employees. It set the standard for how to manage large, complicated enterprises in America.

This is a problem that was solved a long time ago.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

41 comments:

wren said...

We must be moving backwards. Just like in Rhodesia.

Anonymous said...

To the baby boomer-ivy-elite, management is a way to oppress women, homosexuals and racial/religious minorities. It is expressly not about making money, making an organization effective or safty.

The standard for mortgage underwriting is how many oppressed prople you give loans to. The standard for engineering schools is how many women you can entice into designing bridges, even if they do not have much interest in designing bridges.

dearieme said...

If you say so, Steve, but it seems implausible to me that such problems hadn't already been ironed out in the country where railways were invented.

neil craig said...

It appears this crash happened because the driver went through a red light.

There is absolutley no reason why trains should now be driven by drivers rather than the same centralised system that produced that red light. This is one of a number of ways in which railways, over the last century, have been far less innovative than cars.

If rail travel were fully automated, single carriages, or smaller, would be providing regular, inexpensive mass travel & container movement which would be, for many people & businesses, more convenient than cars. Technologically this could have been done years ago.

nsam said...

Major accidents in the highly rated Japan Railway happen, once in a decade or two. The 2005 AMAGASAKI crash killed over 100 people and was due to operator error. The driver was new, had erred earlier, and was trying to make up for lost time and overspeeded on a curve; the train derailed and ran into an apartment. But even this wasn't a head-on collision.

Aren't at least 2 people supposed to make serious errors for head-on crashes to happen?

Anonymous said...

The Penn. Railroad managers of the 19th century have to worry about their engineers sending text messages to teenage boys while operating their trains.

Jonathan said...

There are reports that the engineer driving the train sent a text message on his cell phone one minute before the crash. You couldn't do that in 1843.

Charlie said...

This should not happen in 2008.

It sounds like the culprit here was human error (on the part of the passenger train's engineer, who appears to have died in the collision). I don't know anything about railroad logistics. But, to the extent that it's impossible, inconvenient or prohibitively expensive to fully automate all of this stuff, people are occasionally going to make mistakes that get people killed.

Bill said...

I'm going out on a limb and predict there was a software error involved.

BWT, here in Pittsburgh, we had several fatal crashes in the HOV lane over the years. It's a rush hour lane that changes direction by time of day, but off hours and weekends it's not obvious which way traffic should go. Murphy's Law prevailed. After the last crash, they changed the protocol and set up interlocks on the gates.

SKT said...

I see your point, but I don't think any system can prevent accidents 100% or be 100% fool proof. Maybe mathmatically we can call it an asymptote, where we can keep getting closer to 0 accidents but never quite reach it.

After this accident, maybe they can make changes to prevent whatever went wrong this time from happening again, but there's probably other unforeseen accidents out there, or the possibility that once in a while all the fail safe's you put in place fail at the same time. So again we move closer to 0 accidents, but we don't quite reach 0 accidents.

Then again, I know nothing about trains.

dollmaker said...

A brief news report last night indicated the Metrolink driver may have missed a red stop light because he was text messaging! If this proves to be true (which it may not be since the news media seems to get looser and looser with the facts all the time--last night Fox News said Ike caused $18 billion in damage whereas at the time time our local Fox affiliate's 10pm news said $6 billion, but what's $10 billion?) expect five minutes of outrage and then things back to normal.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Preventing head-on train collisions was the fundamental problem that modern American business management evolved to handle.

But this didn't happen in America, Steve. It happened is Los Angeles, Mexico.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: This is a problem that was solved a long time ago.

Welcome to Idiocracy, where everything old is new again.

josh said...

My 1st thought:mexican driver. Now we hear its operator error,so maybe I was right. I recall--this was before your time in Chicago,Stever,the infamous El crash downtown where the trains fell off the elevated tracks down to the street(Lake)below. Huge huge story. Anyway,the fault lied completely with the driver,an African-American named Steve M---,(I will always remember hgis name becuase my parents had a friend with the same name,no relation heh heh)who had been smoking marijuana. Whenever there is a crash of this nature(like a commuter train/freight train) I always think:another minority getting high. We not too long ago had a big Metra crash,a black engineer was accused of screwing up;he denied it vehemntly,but the facts proved he screwed up.

Anonymous said...

My first thought was that an affirmative action employee had something to do with this or perhaps drug abuse or some combination of the two.

Martin said...

The first thing I thought when I saw the headline was that this is a sure sign of our impending collapse. I can't recall the last time I heard about a train head-on collision in this country. Probably never before in my life.

The latest reports say that the engineer sent a text message a minute or so before the wreck. Apparently, while texting, he didn't see that he was blowing through a red light.

SF said...

They are blaming operator error, in going through a clearly marked red signal. I guess the two questions to ask are was he/she an affirmative action hire, and does the company have an adequate drug testing program. That this happens on supposedly safer public transit is a blow to the stuff white people like crowd

Peter said...

Evidence now suggests that the Metrolink engineer may have been sending a text message to a teenage railfan at the time of the crash. It's not known for sure, and the engineer can't be questioned because he's dead.

What almost certainly contributed to the death toll was the extremely poor crashworthiness of the bilevel passenger coach. The Metrolink locomotive essentially telescoped into the coach; pictures on the LA Daily News' site show that the rear of the locomotive, the part which telescoped into the coach, was barely damaged.

Kai Carver said...

It happened in France as recently as 2006 Luxembourg rail company admits fault in French train crash

A passenger train from Luxembourg carrying around 20 people and a cargo train smashed head-on just 1.5 km (one mile) south of the Luxembourg border.

The two trains hit each other on a bend as they moved in opposite directions along the same track while a parallel line was undergoing maintenance work.

[6 were killed, 16 injured.]

"It's tough to say, but it's the fault of the CFL (the company, Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois)," Luxembourg Transport Minister Lucien Lux told press on Sunday.

Lucius Vorenus said...

neil craig: There is absolutley no reason why trains should now be driven by drivers rather than the same centralised system that produced that red light.

Allow me to introduce you to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Lucius Vorenus said...

dollmaker: ...last night Fox News said Ike caused $18 billion in damage whereas at the time time our local Fox affiliate's 10pm news said $6 billion, but what's $10 billion?

Or 12?

Lucius Vorenus said...

SF: That this happens on supposedly safer public transit is a blow to the stuff white people like crowd.

As if any of them would ever, in a million years, be caught dead [no pun intended] on a train in California.

Even if it stopped at Ikea.

Even if it were dressed up to look like a SAAB convertible.

Even if it offered complimentary bottles of sparkling water.

With a lime twist.

David said...

Look for laws against using your cell phone in your private automobile, now.

Also expect survivor lawsuits against only the most innocent people or entities in the LA crash.

What a world.

Anonymous said...

Trains are still far safer than cars even when you throw in the odd disaster here and there.

Anonymous said...

with the lehman disaster, much as I despise the author it does seem that'we're having and "Atlas Shrugged" week-end.

Anonymous said...

I took a reading exam to get a job on the UP. before. I was kind of shocked at how easy the test was. They want to be able to hire from a large group so they don't want some damn test thinning the herd down(who needs nerds anyway). Technically, you would think that a system would be in place(like a bell) to notify the engineer that he or she is passing a rail light and they better check what color it is. Head on collisions may be rare but trains running into the back of each other happen some times when a switch hasn't been thrown back to where it was supposed to be. Since I didn't get hired I can't offer much more expertise then that.

Anonymous said...

"Robert Sanchez" is the driver's name according to press reports.

SHOCKING!

Martin said...

Anonymous said...

To the baby boomer-ivy-elite, management is a way to oppress women, homosexuals and racial/religious minorities. It is expressly not about making money, making an organization effective or safety."

All too often, management is set on empowering women, homosexuals, and minorities (usually at the expense of white men), rather than any of the tangible ends you mentioned.

"Anonymous said...

with the lehman disaster, much as I despise the author it does seem that'we're having and "Atlas Shrugged" week-end."

Of course, in the case of Lehman Brothers, Atlas didn't shrug - Atlas ran the firm - all those arrogant MOTUs in their double-breasted suits and power-suspenders.

headache said...

Wren,
You must be talking about Zimbabwe. Rhodesia even had its own train manufacturing industries. From what I read (http://thebeardedman.blogspot.com/) I doubt there are many trains left in the new Zimbabwe; all probably not on time.


Head-on collisions also happen in Germany where all the railroads are fully automated. But they are very rare. I agree that standards in all western countries are slipping, in spite of automation. One thing I notice is that most trains are consistently late, over a 10 year period already; and this with all the modern technologies available. For instance all rail lines have induction lines. So you can always tell where a train is. And there is an atomic clock which sends radio signals all over the country, so with a receiver you have the exact time. Surely it’s possible to automatically set the velocity of the train in order to ensure the train is always on schedule. But I guess some security-related bureaucratic regulations get into the way of that again. And then some lazy train-drivers have another cup of coffee instead of starting off.

My mother told me that in the Kaiser period, pre WWI, trains were always punctual - and they were steam operated! So automation clearly does not solve the human factor. It seems that culture is still the determining factor. Too bad.

John of London said...

Here in Britain, with about 180 years of railroad experience, we still have quite serious crashes sometimes (but nothing like on the roads for deaths per passenger mile). In every recent case when it's been driver error, and in fact in every such case I've ever heard of, the driver has been a White British man. I think it's just grotesque the way the isteve crowd are blaming Blacks and Mexicans with no evidence.
I Britain the railways were publicly owned from just after WWII til Mrs Thatcher gave them away to British oligarchs (only they're not called that). Throughout that period the accident rate fell monotonically. Since privatisation it hasn't actually got worse but the improvement has completely stopped.

Anonymous said...

John - It wasnt Thatcher who flogged of British Rail, it was John Major.

neil craig said...

Fair point Lucius I should have said "no technological problem" with automating railways. Indeed there are a nmber of relatively small systems around the world. It is because of the top down organisation of rail, even before government got inolved that the rail unions & other special interests dominate while commercial reality has left the union of horse carriage drivers powerless.

SF said...

Lucius--I've ridden Metrolink once (I don't live in LA) and about half the passengers looked pretty middle class. There were some business suits.

dearieme said...

"Since privatisation it hasn't actually got worse but the improvement has completely stopped." Which is quite an achievement, given how much busier the railways are.

Anonymous said...

You would think there would be GPS transponders on each train so that railroad officials could tell exactly where each train was at all times. This could be a redundant system to prevent accidents like this. Our military uses a GPS system such that commanders have access to a graphic with the locations of almost every vehicle.

Would it be expensive? Probably, but how about the cost of all the lawsuits of one really bad collision?

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

In every recent case when it's been driver error, and in fact in every such case I've ever heard of, the driver has been a White British man.

Yep, white guys still screw things up (mortgage meltdown, anyone?); but, all else being equal, the odds are it will be someone from one of the vibrant communities. The Metrolink story is interesting because it happened during Hurricane Ike, which should remind us of another major deathtoll caused by VibrantPeople.

(That link includes an ad for a National Geographic show on next Sunday called "Neanderthal Code," which wonders whether we inherited any Neanderthal DNA. Anyone heard any advance reports?)

Steve Sailer said...

One operator's inattention shouldn't be able to kill 25 people on a train. A head on train crash is a simple one-dimensional problem. That two trains are going to slam into each other if they keep going is logically predictable by computers several minutes before it happens.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: That two trains are going to slam into each other if they keep going is logically predictable by computers several minutes before it happens.

Yeah, but the computer wouldn't be a dues-paying member of the Teamsters.

Anonymous said...

One operator's inattention shouldn't be able to kill 25 people on a train. A head on train crash is a simple one-dimensional problem. That two trains are going to slam into each other if they keep going is logically predictable by computers several minutes before it happens.

Steve, have you read about the operator's background?

TGGP said...

Apparently Southern California has been having this kind of problem for a while.

VoodooMan said...

Lucius Vorenus said...
neil craig: There is absolutley no reason why trains should now be driven by drivers rather than the same centralised system that produced that red light.

Allow me to introduce you to the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a Division of the Rail Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Allow me to introduce you to a society that hates and fears automation, partly due to religious arcanophobia, party due to the "it will take our jobs away" attitude. Even much of our science fiction plays to these reactionary fears with its lurid depictions of evil computers and robots. (Star Wars is a welcome exception.)

For some reason, "heathen" Japan doesn't have the same phobias as Christian America, which leads to more rationality, which leads to Japan being a world leader in automation.

As for "it will take our jobs away", someone like Robert Sanchez deserved, in the first place, not to be employed in a job that required responsibility. It doesn't matter where he came from. His level of competency is what matters.

Maybe those whining luddites, of both the Left and Right, so concerned about other people's employment and other people's souls should be drafted into the sorts of jobs with a huge labour shortage!