USA - substantial wreck and fire on the Union Pacific in Iowa

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Shaw S Hunter

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The load included ammonium nitrate which is potentially highly explosive as per that big bang in Beirut a while back. Accident location was Sibley in far north-western Iowa on UP's main route from Minneapolis to Omaha; doubtless traffic was diverted via the Kansas City route to the town of Nevada and then via the main westward route from Chicago. Perhaps someone with a decent knowledge of the UP could highlight the actual names of these lines.
 

MarcVD

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Derailments like this one are just business as usual on most US railroads...
 

peteb

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I've been watching some recently posted youtube video taken in daylight through the rear door of a New Orleans to Chicago sleeper train in Mississippi state. 75mph on single track, timber ties and bumpy switches! So can well imagine a freight derailing........
 

MarcVD

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They do seem quite common. Any reason why - track quality?
Track quality may be an issue but not always. Mostly I think the problem is that North American railroads are pushing the railway technology to the limits, in terms of weight, length, axle loads, etc, with no room for recovery if anything goes wrong. So the slightest incident ends up in a disaster. They also have, I think, too little consideration for the human factors - anyone having seen the pile of crap that surrounds an American driving seat understands what I mean. And finally their attitude regarding maintenance is also telling a lot.
 

Taunton

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I think that's a bit extreme, that they have no understanding. That derailment, with damage, compensation, repairs, lost revenue etc is going to cost Union Pacific likely upwards of 20 million dollars - probably still under their insurance claim floor so it's all shareholders money out of the window.
 

Shaw S Hunter

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A couple of updates gleaned from Iowa based sites. Firstly the damaged bridge visible in some images was damaged by the accident and not the cause of it. Secondly the report of ammonium nitrate as part of the load was incorrect, rather one tank car had carried the substance in liquid form on its previous run. More concerning for the emergency crews was the presence of both hydrochloric acid and potassium hydroxide in some of the cars.

More generally regarding the somewhat patchy safety record of US railroads I have recently come across suggestions that perhaps the NTSB is part of problem. Allegedly said body is somewhat reluctant to consider the possibility that safety systems and procedures used in other countries might be better than some of those currently prevalent in the US.
 
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A couple of updates gleaned from Iowa based sites. Firstly the damaged bridge visible in some images was damaged by the accident and not the cause of it. Secondly the report of ammonium nitrate as part of the load was incorrect, rather one tank car had carried the substance in liquid form on its previous run. More concerning for the emergency crews was the presence of both hydrochloric acid and potassium hydroxide in some of the cars.

More generally regarding the somewhat patchy safety record of US railroads I have recently come across suggestions that perhaps the NTSB is part of problem. Allegedly said body is somewhat reluctant to consider the possibility that safety systems and procedures used in other countries might be better than some of those currently prevalent in the US.
That would be quite normal for the US - all kinds of bodies there are far too reluctant to ever consider the experience of other countries.
 

Geeves

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What's the deal with positive train control, is that on all lines or just certain locations? I would guess its not going to help is the lines are being hammered mind
 

ac6000cw

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That would be quite normal for the US - all kinds of bodies there are far too reluctant to ever consider the experience of other countries.
That's a problem in many countries, particularly the ones with large economies which they seek to protect from foreign competition. IMHO it's misguided, but that's global politics and nationalism for you...

In the other direction, I note that European countries - UK included - still don't generally use automatic centre couplers for freight - something that the US made mandatory on safety grounds over a 100 years ago...if that's not sticking your head in the (safety and efficiency) sand I don't know what is...

What's the deal with positive train control, is that on all lines or just certain locations? I would guess its not going to help is the lines are being hammered mind
It's basically mandatory on routes carrying above a specified annual tonnage, or hazardous materials, or regular passenger trains. The effect of those rules is that the routes that carry the vast majority of freight and passenger traffic have to be equipped with PTC.

They also have, I think, too little consideration for the human factors - anyone having seen the pile of crap that surrounds an American driving seat understands what I mean.
During the course of their evolution, the modern 'wide cab' freight locos moved to a more European style 'desktop' control layout. The problem was the crews didn't like them i.e. they found 'desktop controls' less ergonomic than the old 'control stand' setup. So GE and EMD re-invented the control stand layout in a form compatible with it housing LCD screens instead of lots of gauges, dials and switches - which is where the situation sits today, AFAIK.
 

Taunton

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In the other direction, I note that European countries - UK included - still don't generally use automatic centre couplers for freight - something that the US made mandatory on safety grounds over a 100 years ago...if that's not sticking your head in the (safety and efficiency) sand I don't know what is...
This sets aside that you still have to go between the freight cars to couple the air hoses ...

The real safety issue with old-style US couplers, of the link & pin type, was that you actually had to get between the cars and drop the pin in at just the right moment, far more hazardous for injuries than standing aside with a shunting pole.
 

ac6000cw

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This sets aside that you still have to go between the freight cars to couple the air hoses ...
Yes, I'm well aware of that - but it's still easier & safer than having to do the same thing plus ducking under a side buffer along the way...

I think the fact that USA, Canada, China, Russia, Australia, India and many other countries use automatic centre couplers for freight vehicles suggests that it's a better system overall? (and most of those have changed from older coupling systems over time).
 

whoosh

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They also have, I think, too little consideration for the human factors....

Yes, the exhausting fatigue from being on-call 24/7 for traincrew - but then get the blame for any mess-ups they make due to being 'less than 100% mentally switched on.'
 

Taunton

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Yes, the exhausting fatigue from being on-call 24/7 for traincrew - but then get the blame for any mess-ups they make due to being 'less than 100% mentally switched on.'
That's principally due, I'm afraid to say, to union insistence on this so those with "the seniority" get first dibs at operations.

The engineer of the wrecked inaugural run of the Cascades in Washington a few years ago had bid for the prestige run on seniority, and had never operated over the new line in the dark before, or indeed at all apart from a couple of observational runs in daylight. But that was "how we do it".
 

the sniper

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Yes, the exhausting fatigue from being on-call 24/7 for traincrew - but then get the blame for any mess-ups they make due to being 'less than 100% mentally switched on.'

Indeed. The working practices over there are scary, particularly for new starters. I don't know how they live that life, let alone work under those conditions.

The engineer of the wrecked inaugural run of the Cascades in Washington a few years ago had bid for the prestige run on seniority, and had never operated over the new line in the dark before, or indeed at all apart from a couple of observational runs in daylight. But that was "how we do it".

Regardless of seniority, that's an issue with route learning standards and compliance.
 

ac6000cw

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Yes, the exhausting fatigue from being on-call 24/7 for traincrew
That is definitely major issue, has been for many years, and gets investigated, researched and commented on by the NTSB and FRA periodically. But I'm not convinced that it's taken as seriously as it should be.
 

Dr Hoo

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Whilst all this stuff about human factors in US rail safety is very interesting, is there any evidence that the recent pile-up was due to such factors (rather than a defective wagon, broken rail, washout or whatever)?
 

ac6000cw

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Whilst all this stuff about human factors in US rail safety is very interesting, is there any evidence that the recent pile-up was due to such factors (rather than a defective wagon, broken rail, washout or whatever)?
From the video of the wreckage I've seen it looks more like a straightforward derailment to me.

This drone video - https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/...fter-train-derailment-sibley-iowa/5121973001/ - I think shows a couple of freight cars on their sides separated from the main pile up (and about 2/3 of a mile of train stretching away into the distance behind the wreckage) with a mid-train DPU loco not far back. So I suspect the derailment occurred mid-train, with the remaining front part a little way away when the video was shot.
 

Merle Haggard

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Seeing how the wagons have 'zig-zagged' - looking at Youtube, this seems to be a common result of a collision or derailment in the U.S. - I wonder whether this is because of the use of centre couplers and no side buffers. Simple physics suggests that, with the transfer of forces being only at the centre line, any force except exactly in a straight line along the centre line of the wagon would provide a re-action sideways. Side buffers would possibly restrain the wagons in a straight line.
 

Dunfanaghy Rd

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This sets aside that you still have to go between the freight cars to couple the air hoses ...

The real safety issue with old-style US couplers, of the link & pin type, was that you actually had to get between the cars and drop the pin in at just the right moment, far more hazardous for injuries than standing aside with a shunting pole.
Going between vehicles without side buffers means that there is an easy escape route. With side buffers you have to duck down to get underneath - not so easy during a 'brown trouser' moment. Having shunted for
EWS and DB I've worked with buffered and non-buffered vehicles and I know which I preferred.
The problem seems to be that the various European authorities all agree that auto couplers are a Good Thing, but want to invent a new perfect one instead of an existing one with a decent track record (sorry about the pun). The Janney type (Buckeye, Alliance, Tightlock, &c.) works fine. I guess the Russian one is OK, as it was once the basis for the UIC Standard (which died the death), and a reduced size version is used on NG conractors kit.
Pat
 
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