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........
On the RR, "believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see"
John, aka "JTGSHU" passed away on August 26, 2013. We honor his memory and his devotion to railroading at railroad.net.