• Positive Train Control Myths and Facts

  • General discussion about locomotives, rolling stock, and equipment
General discussion about locomotives, rolling stock, and equipment

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  by Jersey_Mike
 
In 30 years I know of one fatal incident( rear ender at Mount Vernon East), and if that could have been prevented it would have been worth 350 million to his family and his fellow workers.
And if its and buts were cherries and nuts we would all have a merry Christmas. Because we live in this thing called The Real World resources are limited, so we have to use cost calculations to make sure that public funds do the most good for the most people. By saving 1 railroad passenger with your 350 million dollar signaling system you will inevitably kill other people who could have been saved by alternate uses of that money. I am sure that the family of a motorist killed commuting on the Cross Westchester would be equally upset that the 350 million wasn't spent to weekend improve service on the Harlem Line. I don't know if you are intentionally just trying to just wind me up, but we can't just go and throw money at things based on emotion. You can't just magically save everybody, like reducing deadly congestion on I-95, reduction of CO2 emissions and getting people to work on time so they can invest money in companies making the next generation of life saving technologies.

So once again instead of talking about cost effective safety rules and technologies we are faced with a magic pixie dust that will make rail even less competitive with roads. I am getting sick of having friends shoot down my suggestion to take Amtrak over reasonable distances because on the "Ohio Turnpike they can go 90". If you really wanted to get serious about saving lives one might try Positive Truck Control instead.
  by jb9152
 
neroden wrote:I did say "in a fully automated system", which is the key qualifier there. :-D
There are no fully automated mainline railroad systems in operation. So you're still in the "and then something happens" realm.
neroden wrote:See, in a fully automated system, you have to program in everything the engineer would do, already. If you're going to have trains with different handling characteristics, different problems on the line, you simply have to program in the reactions to the situation, and the schemes for detecting them, before you even start operating. It's relatively straightforward programming, but it's many many man-hours of work -- but you have to do it all anyway for a fully automated system, just to get it working. The PTC comes "free" with the automation.
Yes, it's so wonderfully simple, isn't it? Wonder it hasn't been done yet! Why, I'll bet you could whip up a crackerjack PTC fully automated mainline railroad control system if you just had enough "man-hours".
neroden wrote:The thing is, the presence of a locomotive engineer is saving a lot of money because, compared to a fully automated system, s/he's doing a lot of stuff which would have required complicated programming.
That logic makes my head hurt. Engineers are expensive. They cost salary, benefits, training costs, arbitraries. Class I railroads are already trying to cut back on crew consists because of the costs of labor. How would your super easy automated system require that expenditure of money, every day of every year, once it's in operation? Do you think you'll need a developer for every train, as we currently need an engineer for every train? Will they get overtime if the automatic train runs late?

Believe me, if there were a way to fully automate mainline railroading, it would be done already. PTC is *not* automation, in any sense. It does not run trains, it merely enforces engineers' good behavior.
  by RogerOverOutRR
 
No, I saw it. I just don't agree. Are you an engineer? Have you ever operated a train?
Yes, and you? BTW, we run trains.
  by Jersey_Mike
 
Believe me, if there were a way to fully automate mainline railroading, it would be done already. PTC is *not* automation, in any sense. It does not run trains, it merely enforces engineers' good behavior.
I'm more worried about it enforcing engineers giving to charity and volunteering at a soup kitchen.

Here is a feature a good PTC system would have. If an Amtrak train is running late the engineer presses a button to request "turbo mode". A request is sent to some sort of central system which determines where the train's speed can be increased 10 to 20% and an FRA required insurance payment is made to cover the increased risk of reducing the trains safety margins. The train then increases speed and makes up the lost time. That's a much more efficient way to handle safety. If PTC decreases the risk of an accident, there should be a way to trade back some risk for increased performance, call calculated in real time and offset by insurance.
  by justalurker66
 
RogerOverOutRR wrote:
Your point about engineers knowing where code drops are, even if there's no corresponding wayside signal (which is the case in "cab no wayside" systems, or where there are code rate timers) is an illustration of my previous point about engineer "pre-action". I don't really have an opinion one way or the other in this case, but your point that this illustrates professionalism on an engineer's part (pre-acting to code drops) is in direct contradiction to Jersey Mike's.
I think you failed to see that I was disagreeing with your thought that Engineers do not think, and just react subconsciously. This is all part of an Engineers knowledge, which requires thought.
I believe you are reading too much into jb's statement. He did not say that Engineers don't think, only that some of their actions are driven by their subconscius reactions. Make the same run over and over and over facing the same signals over and over and over and you'll get the feel for the line and anticipate what is coming next. Remember that hill that you have to accelerate in to despite the 50 MPH restriction on the curve at the top? Or on the downgrade where you have to brake earlier to make sure you don't overrun the station at the bottom of the hill? You have learned the line and you're just doing what you have learned ... over and over and over again.

That is until someone throws something new at you, like a red that doesn't drop to approach because on that particular day instead of chasing the same pattern that you have seen for the past 100 runs something went wrong ahead and the train you were chasing stopped. That is when the real test of who is thinking is made. Hopefully when that happens the engineer doesn't react by saying "Why is the system giving me an alarm? I don't get alarms at this part of the trip?" and actually respond to the alarm. Stay alert ... and install some sort of PTC for the moments that humans fail.
  by RogerOverOutRR
 
I believe you are reading too much into jb's statement. He did not say that Engineers don't think, only that some of their actions are driven by their subconscius reactions. Make the same run over and over and over facing the same signals over and over and over and you'll get the feel for the line and anticipate what is coming next. Remember that hill that you have to accelerate in to despite the 50 MPH restriction on the curve at the top? Or on the downgrade where you have to brake earlier to make sure you don't overrun the station at the bottom of the hill? You have learned the line and you're just doing what you have learned ... over and over and over again.

That is until someone throws something new at you, like a red that doesn't drop to approach because on that particular day instead of chasing the same pattern that you have seen for the past 100 runs something went wrong ahead and the train you were chasing stopped. That is when the real test of who is thinking is made. Hopefully when that happens the engineer doesn't react by saying "Why is the system giving me an alarm? I don't get alarms at this part of the trip?" and actually respond to the alarm. Stay alert ... and install some sort of PTC for the moments that humans fail.
Do you run trains? If not, allow me to educate you. There is nothing routine about running a train. You go through the motions handling the terrain, but you are always adjusting yourself. This obviously requires thought. No train is like the next, weatherwise, or equipment wise.
An Engineer does not "learn", or "anticipate" complying with signals. You never approach a stop signal expecting it to change to a more favorable aspect, but then again, if you do not run trains, I would not expect you to know that. Neither do you "chase" trains, whatever that means. Each signal has an indication, a meaning, which will govern how an Engineer handles his train. If you were following another train in the same block, restricted speed would govern the trains movement, and the Engineer would handle his train accordingly.
All this effort for this stuff, yet people are comfortable with the current safety standards on our roadways.
  by justalurker66
 
Roger, perhaps you have your head wrapped around the train you run that you fail to see the way other trains run. Or perhaps you are so arrogant that you think no one can do your job like you can, despite the fact that many did your job before you came along and many will do it long after your last run. So please, do a little reading of this thread instead of demonstrating a knee jerk reaction to anyone who might suggest engineers don't think. You are providing an excellent example of a non-thinking engineer, so set in what he does that he fails to adjust.

Come along with me for a ride ... on a commuter railroad with short headways. As an engineer on the commuter railroad your daily assignment is to operate (run) trains from one point to another making two to four trips per day. It is the same four trips at the same time, and while weather conditions change not much else does. Every day is the same consist or one very close to it. It is commuter rail. Some systems may have old vs new equipment and have more variance between number of engines and cars but your trip on this railroad isn't different day to day. Unless you're running from the extra board you're seeing the same patterns, day in or day out. It doesn't matter what that pattern is ... if it is seeing approach after approach because of short headways or always seeing clear. The pattern is there. Ask any experienced engineer ... they will tell you something like: "We run track two from CP X with every signal clear ... diverging clear at these three CPs. We normally get an approach at CP Y and occasionally get held at the next signal for opposing traffic. Once that train clears we get a diverging clear to continue and then due to traffic we see a lot of approach signals until we reach the terminal." If you don't want to refer to that as chasing the same pattern, fine. Life goes on. Call it what you want it is still the same pattern every day. That is what running trains on a tight schedule creates.

Perhaps you are not running commuter run. Perhaps you are an extra board engineer who doesn't have a set run from day to day or work for a railroad that doesn't have consistant traffic. Your experiences may be completely different than those of others. Try to see that there are a lot of engineers out there doing the same runs from day to day on the same tracks with the same experience nearly every day where the differences are minor. It is not all about you!

Hopefully this has served to educate you.
  by jb9152
 
RogerOverOutRR wrote:
No, I saw it. I just don't agree. Are you an engineer? Have you ever operated a train?
Yes, and you? BTW, we run trains.
Where have you worked? Do you "run" trains in a 'cab, no wayside' environment? How about a system with grade timed signals?

I'm not questioning engineers' professionalism or skill. But I've been at this for over 20 years, and I think I know a few things about rail operations at this point in my career. Pre-action exists. You gave a wonderful example yourself when you said:

"One quality of a good Engineer is beating the code drops to the punch, knowing the location and sequence of the normal code changes. You have to very much be aware of what you are doing, and remember to put on brake. If you did not realize, you would be hitting that code."

Exactly. You don't know exactly where the code change is; you "feel" it, and you're on the brake before you hit the code. Couldn't have explained it better myself. PTC will have a similar effect approaching speed restrictions.
Last edited by jb9152 on Mon Jan 18, 2010 8:50 am, edited 3 times in total.
  by jb9152
 
RogerOverOutRR wrote:Do you run trains? If not, allow me to educate you. There is nothing routine about running a train. You go through the motions handling the terrain, but you are always adjusting yourself. This obviously requires thought. No train is like the next, weatherwise, or equipment wise.
An Engineer does not "learn", or "anticipate" complying with signals. You never approach a stop signal expecting it to change to a more favorable aspect, but then again, if you do not run trains, I would not expect you to know that. Neither do you "chase" trains, whatever that means. Each signal has an indication, a meaning, which will govern how an Engineer handles his train. If you were following another train in the same block, restricted speed would govern the trains movement, and the Engineer would handle his train accordingly.
All this effort for this stuff, yet people are comfortable with the current safety standards on our roadways.
I'm not going to argue this point. It's already been proven, time and time again. The Long Island Rail Road (amongst others - I'm just using this one because they run the most trains) actually incorporates engineer pre-action in their network simulations because it HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. If they don't account for this conditioned behavior, the simulations turn out too optimistic (i.e. they don't correlate with reality; trains run "better" in simulation, consistently).

Your statement "You never approach a stop signal expecting it to change to a more favorable aspect..." is demonstrably false every single day on PATH, where engineers run up on Stop signals because they've become conditioned to the timing system. They're not sitting in their cabs with a stopwatch; they have become conditioned at each location to the "feel" of the timing. They "know" that the signal will upgrade just as they reach it. They have not memorized their physical characteristics or learned the book of rules so well that they know how to do this. It's conditioning.
Last edited by jb9152 on Mon Jan 18, 2010 8:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by NellieBly
 
Mr. Norman:

Recall that "next-gen ATC" is also on the agenda for the near future. We may well be flying in drones in a few years. I've already heard discussions about it.

Remember the old joke? The next-gen aircraft will have a man and a dog on the flight deck. The man's job is to feed the dog, and the dog's job is to bite the man if he tries to fly the plane.

That ought to work for freight trains too.
  by QB 52.32
 
NellieBly wrote:3) The information generated by a vehicle-centric PTC system can be used for a host of other functions, such as dispatch planning, schedule adherance, locomotive health monitoring, status of en-route pickups and set-outs, etc. Some people (and I am one) believe that the availability of real-time train location data will enable railroads to realize substantial operating efficiencies. The railroads deny this. But for example, how much more efficient will track maintenance become when a foreman knows, to the minute, when the next train will show up?
Based upon the functions mentioned in point #3, I don't see how this would provide anything new (that the carriers don't already have) that would "enable railroads to realize substantial operating efficiencies". That kind of benefit would have to come from increasing capacity on existing infrastructure (and from the discussion seems it will do the opposite?) or support/lead to crew size reductions. Will PTC allow trains to travel more-closely to each other, therefore allowing more throughput or, perhaps, with a longer view, will PTC provide a platform down the road which can be used to increase throughput and/or provide partial/full automation?
  by Jtgshu
 
Ive seen Path Engineers and NYC motormen running up on stop signals "knowing" that they are going to change, and it totally blows my mind how they do that.

There IS a conditioning that does happen when you do the same run every day day in and day out, see the same trains in meets, encounter the same signal progressions, see the same thing day in and day out (which is one of the reasons I think something ELSE besides texting, like signal failure, was really the cause for the Metrolink head-on that has lead to all this). However, that conditioning can be a benefit because the second something seems out of place or out of the ordinary to the engineer, he might be albe to pick up on that and be more on his toes. IIRC, that was what happened with the run away bulkhead flat up in Mass. The engineer knew something was up, and stopped and even requested permission to reverse, but the car ended up striking the train while the passenger train was stopped, minimizing injuries.

You simply cannot assume that because the same engineer makes the same stops each day, at the same time in the same locations, that he is "conditioned" and acting in robot mode. The same train will stop differently from stop to stop. Different trains handle differently than others, and rail conditions and mechanical conditions make these varibles always different. Wheel wear, and in particular, newness of the brakes shoes a major factor. If there weren't these variables, engineers woudln't be required to do running brake tests by the FRA, which are de-certifiable if not done. Its the skill of the engineer that accounts for how the train is reacting, the rail and weather conditions to make that train stop at the same point each day. its not as easy as just taking 10psi of brake pipe out at this location and stopping exactly at that location. You can do that on one train, while the next train might require you to take out 20psi to stop at that point, while another train might only need 8psi taken out to get the trian to stop somewhere. Of course, im not even getting into mechancial failures or mistakes by mechanical forces that can also totally change how a trian reacts.

Im not going to get into what defines a "good" engineer and a "bad" engineer. But things can happen to both good and bad engineers. A very good engineer friend of mine went by a stop signal in a very bad location through absolutely no fault of his own. A combination of mechanical issues and rail conditions led to a train that simply would not stop before going under the signal. No computer control system would be able to stop the train either, as which is so often forgotten, its where the wheel hits the rail that things really matter. in THEORY what happened could not have happened, but in REALITY, it did.

Im not worried about PTC making my job as an engineer go by the wayside, I don't think that "no man crews" will ever happen on mainline, heavy rail systems, in particular passenger trains. People/passengers/neighbors of RR simply wouldn't go for it, no matter how much money the railroad would save. Maybe on subways, and isolated, rapid transit type lines, but not heavy rail trains.

I do take issue with the "cost" of an engineer however (and conductors as well). Yes, they are expensive in salary, benefits, etc etc etc, however, mechanical forces and other necessary folks cost a lot of money as well. Its just that train and engine forces seem to take the brunt of the attention because they are the visible faces of the railroad. More complicated signal systems and mechanical features simply mean a need to expand those ranks to address those issues. Say it costs the RR 125K a year for an engineer in salary benefits, etc. How much does is it going to cost them for the extra specialized skilled signal maintainers who at least on my RR don't make much less than the engineer, that are now required to fix and maintain these new systems? Anyway, lets say it costs the RR 125K a year for an engineers salary - I think its safe to say that the engineer earns the railroad probably more than they will pay him in his entire career in just one year of work, and probably much less than one year of work.

Seems like more and more, these new bells and whistles on the tracks, signals, locomotives, cars, whatever, are having "unintended consequences" and more and more costs than the older ways of doing things. "you can save 2 million dollars by buying this feature, by installing this computer system etc" "oh, okay, great!!" and in the end it costs lets say 4 million to buy the speicalized gear for the new stuff, in training the workforces on new stuff, and in new shop facilities required. But because its looked at as "support" it tends to get overlooked, which is bull........
  by SooLineRob
 
Somewhat related to this discussion...

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to "test drive" a locomotive consist equipped with "Cruise Control". While the system isn't really called that, that's essentially what it is ... cruise control for freight trains. In a nutshell, the system will run a train using throttle modulation in the same manner a Locomotive Engineer would. The system DOES NOT have the abitlity to brake (nor stop) a train; but it will efficiently control a train's speed while complying with en route speed restrictions by adding or reducing throttle.

I was QUITE suprised at how well the system ran the train. Although this was on a bulk commodity unit train, I look forward to using the system on an 8400' mixed freight consist to see how well it performs.

During the trip, a representative from the company that made the system was instructing me on it's use. We had some very good and informative conversations during the trip, and we speculated about what the future may bring. He pointedly told me some interesting things. Paraphrasing his words, he said "...we're not trying to eliminate the Engineer's skills ... we're trying to make hauling freight more efficient ... we have the technology to start and run freight trains now ... but we can't slow and stop all the different freight trains that are running around as reliably as an Engineer can ... eventually technology will replace the T&E crew, but how far in the future is unknown ... I don't know of anything in developement right now that will replace the T&E crew ... railroads will experience unprecedented growth, and technological improvements will make them more eco-friendly and competitive..."


Ms Bly,

I hope the dog bites me.
  by Jishnu
 
NellieBly wrote:Mr. Norman:

Recall that "next-gen ATC" is also on the agenda for the near future. We may well be flying in drones in a few years. I've already heard discussions about it.
Already for all practical purposes on long flights the cockpit crew is there to handle exceptions. Routine flying is pretty much automatic anyway, including notification of impending collision situations that then causes the cockpit crew to intervene following the instructions of the TCAS system, Indeed in bad weather situations explicitly the crew is supposed to follow the automated aids rather than trying to second guess the system. When the weather situation at the airport requires it, a landing can be done only using the CAT IIIB system and not any other way. In India when CAT IIIB system was installed in Delhi to enable landing in thick fog which is common in winter, many airlines carped endlessly about the cost of training pilots and equipping planes etc. But slowly they are coming around to changing their attitudes as they see others taking business away from them, even though the number of days of such involved in a year is less than 20 or so.

Eventually it is always an issue of finding the right combination of human and automation aids that works the best, and there will be a tendency towards moving more of the routine chores to be automated whether people like it or not. Eventually those functions that make sense to automate will get automated notwithstanding all of the arguments about it. People are still carping on about Fly By Wire systems and Safety Envelope protection systems, and yet flying has become safer than ever because of such advances. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the same will not hold true for railroad operations, specially as speeds of operation increase.
  by jb9152
 
Jtgshu wrote:Ive seen Path Engineers and NYC motormen running up on stop signals "knowing" that they are going to change, and it totally blows my mind how they do that.
Me too!
Jtgshu wrote:You simply cannot assume that because the same engineer makes the same stops each day, at the same time in the same locations, that he is "conditioned" and acting in robot mode. The same train will stop differently from stop to stop. Different trains handle differently than others, and rail conditions and mechanical conditions make these varibles always different. Wheel wear, and in particular, newness of the brakes shoes a major factor. If there weren't these variables, engineers woudln't be required to do running brake tests by the FRA, which are de-certifiable if not done. Its the skill of the engineer that accounts for how the train is reacting, the rail and weather conditions to make that train stop at the same point each day. its not as easy as just taking 10psi of brake pipe out at this location and stopping exactly at that location. You can do that on one train, while the next train might require you to take out 20psi to stop at that point, while another train might only need 8psi taken out to get the trian to stop somewhere. Of course, im not even getting into mechancial failures or mistakes by mechanical forces that can also totally change how a trian reacts.
All good points, and it is not my suggestion in any way to say that engineers are robots, which is precisely the reason why there is no practical mainline railroad ATO in existence - neroden's beliefs notwithstanding, there are simply too many variables to consider at this point to automate mainline railroad operations. My point is that engineers become accustomed, through their own situational awareness, to setting targets for themselves (taking into account all of the things you mentioned - every train consist has its own idiosyncracies), especially in "cab, no wayside" environments. It's simply human factors - if you don't have a wayside signal cueing you on a code drop, the mind will unconsciously (or consciously, in some cases) set a visual cue to the code drop location. That visual cue will be the engineer's trigger to begin braking, using whatever trainhandling technique he or she needs based on his or her "feel" for the consist.
Jtgshu wrote:Im not going to get into what defines a "good" engineer and a "bad" engineer. But things can happen to both good and bad engineers. A very good engineer friend of mine went by a stop signal in a very bad location through absolutely no fault of his own. A combination of mechanical issues and rail conditions led to a train that simply would not stop before going under the signal. No computer control system would be able to stop the train either, as which is so often forgotten, its where the wheel hits the rail that things really matter. in THEORY what happened could not have happened, but in REALITY, it did.
This is what makes the design of a failsafe system to stop trains before they get into the foul, a work zone, past a switch, etc., so difficult. Changing conditions at the wheel-rail interface, differences in equipment performance, etc. all have to be considered in setting up the "enforcement action" that will bring the train to a safe stop automatically if an engineer fails to do so. The more of those situational and conditional variables you consider, the more uncertainty you introduce into the equation, and the longer from the fouling point your braking point gets - which is a detriment to capacity.
Jtgshu wrote:I do take issue with the "cost" of an engineer however (and conductors as well).
Engineers and conductors are expensive on the face of it, as is any labor - labor costs are normally the most expensive costs for any company. My point about the costs of crewmembers was in response to neroden's unfounded claim that the presence of an engineer saves the railroad money. That's just not true. While it's unlikely to happen during our careers (and possibly never), full automation if it were possible would save a ton of money. I'm not advocating for it in any way, I'm just stating a fact. If trains went crewless, the railroads would lose all of the salary, benefits, and other costs associated with maintaining a large workforce. PTC will *not* make trains crewless. Neroden seemed to suggest that a fully automated system would be much more expensive than maintaining engineers. That's just not true - once the system were installed, you'd need a much smaller force to maintain it (which was why I asked the rhetorical question - do you think you'll need a developer for every train?). Again, before the BLE pickets my house - I am NOT suggesting that mainline railroads go automatic.
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