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At the time that I start writing, the death toll from the train wreck that took place in Santiago de Compostela in Spain has risen to 79. According to an account shortly after the crash (sp):

Alternating AVE segments with segments of conventional track or of lower specifications occurs at other points of the line. The Alvia train between Madrid and Ferrol, the fastest going through Santigo, travels on different tracks. Between Madrid and Olmedo (Valladolid) it takes advantage of the AVE track. Then, between Olmedo and Ourense it returns to a conventional track, waiting for the completion of the AVE works already underway. Finally, between Ourense and Ferrol it again joins the AVE line, which at the entrance to Santiago goes alongside the old track.

At that moment, the train must brake and when it reaches the tight bend where the accident took place it must leave it speed at barely 80km/h. The velocity drop at that point is very steep: form 200 km/h to 80 in a short time span.

The causes of the excessive speed are still not known. The line where the accident occurred is still not within the ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System), a rail traffic mnagement system preventing a train from exceeding the established speed limit or disobey stop signals, very similar to the automatic alert systems already installed in many European countries. This system is the one deployed, for instance, on the Madrid-Barcelona AVE line in october 2011. (translation by Migeru at the European Tribune)

The statement "the cause of the excessive speed are still not know" is referring to the proximate cause, since the ultimate cause is stated directly after: the line is not within the version of Positive Train Control signal system used in Europe, the ERTMS.

30 July: Also see this UPDATE at Voices on the Square: The Santiago Train Derailment Could Have Been Prevented with a Euro 6,000 beacon

Merely Reducing the Carnage of the Motorways is Not Good Enough

While train wrecks and airplane crashes grab the headlines, the Grim Reaper's real helpmate in passenger transport is the motorway. In 2008, 3,100 were killed on the motorways of Spain, a mortality rate of 67.2 per million.  This is substantially better than the grisly toll taken by US motorways, with a Wikipedia contributor listing 32,267 US road fatalities in 2011, a mortality rate of 104 per million.

I mean, imagine if some single event killed even 1/10th as many Americans ... if there was some single event that killed around 3,000 Americans, the reaction would be national shock and a massive hue and cry to go after those responsible. But 30,000 killed by our primary passenger transport system is widely dispersed and accumulates day by day in widely scattered individual "accidents", and so accepted as a matter of course: it is a largely routine tragedy, unless, of course, it is not our family that has been hit by that particular incident.

The death toll does does generate routine pronouncements that we must do better, and the occasional policy initiative to try to do better, but nothing like the response that is generated by a single event killing people by the dozens to hundreds.

However, everyone getting behind the wheel of a car is accepting that there is a low but real risk that they might kill somebody with their car that day. If they drink and drive, or text and drive, or talk on their cellphone and drive, that risk shoots up, but its still a small value per person, and so is easily ignored by those accustomed to ignoring small but real risks of events with extremely grave consequences.

The same need not be true of people traveling by train. Yonah Freemark writing on opinion piece at CNN, notes:

Rail, high speed or not, is one of the safest ways to get around. According to a National Safety Council review of 10 years of transportation fatalities [pdf], for every mile traveled, car drivers and passengers are more than 10 times as likely to die in accidents as passenger rail riders. In 21 years -- between 1990 and 2011 -- the Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that nearly 900,000 people died in highway crashes, while fewer than 15,000 died in train collisions.
Just because we largely tolerate a mortality rate of 100 deaths per million people in the United States does not mean that we should tolerate 100 rail deaths per million people per year if rail travel took over the transport task presently performed by cars in the United States. Nor, if rail took over the current auto transport task, that we should tolerate the 10 rail deaths per million people per year that would represent a 90% reduction in risk of death in rail travel versus car travel.

The rate of carnage of automobile passenger transport is not merely higher than we ought to accept, one-tenth of the current rate of carnage is still higher than we ought to accept.

Indeed, as Yonah goes on to point out, in some countries, the safety record is substantially stronger:

Other countries' experience shows that high-speed rail can be even safer than the much slower U.S. trains. The bullet trains that zoom through France and Japan, for instance, testify to the astonishing safety offered by well-managed rail services. Each nation's system has been in operation for more than 30 years and provided billions of rides.

Yet thanks to advanced safety systems and extensive maintenance, no passengers -- zero -- have died as a result of a high-speed train crash in either country. ...

The Lessons of Chatsworth

The train wreck at Santiago de Compostela was a derailment due to a train failing to brake coming out of a 110mph section of corridor heading toward a 50mph speed limit curve.

However, the lesson of the wreck seems to be the same as the one that transportation authorities learned here in the United States from the collision of a Metrolink commuter rail train and a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Los Angeles, killing twenty-five (25) people, with another 135 injured, 46 of them critically injured.

Shortly after the Chatsworth train collision, the Ventura County Star reported:

The system, known as "positive train control," can take over if an operator fails to slow or stop when a signal says to.

Kitty Higgins, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation into the crash, said Sunday that she was convinced that such a system "would have prevented this accident."

The system would have automatically slowed the trains, perhaps stopping them in time before they crashed in Chatsworth, she said.

In the aftermath of Chatworth, Congress moved to require the installation of PTC on all rail corridors shared with passenger rail traffic, as well as rail corridors carrying hazardous cargo. According to Popular Schience
The Class I’s knew better than to object when Congress was passing the law mandating positive train control in the wake of the Chatsworth wreck. Bellyaching at such an emotional moment would have looked insensitive. Not a single interest group took a position on the law as it was being debated in 2008.
However, time has passed since Chatworth, and with the 2015 deadline looming, its not certain that PTC will be installed in time. This February, Congressional Quarterly weekly reported:
... Railroads, though, have shuddered at the $14 billion that the Federal Railroad Administration estimates it would cost to fully install a “positive train control” or PTC system on some 60,000 miles of track.

And with Congress gearing up to write a new authorization bill for rail programs this year, some lawmakers in both chambers will try to delay the program. House Republicans — including Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, the new chairman of the committee that will write the rail bill — tried to push back the deadline for complying with the anti-collision requirement by five years in last year’s highway and transit law. The Senate-passed version would have granted the Transportation Department discretion to give railroads one-year extensions through 2018.

In the end, conferees didn’t touch the 2015 deadline, but House aides and industry lobbyists expect a provision delaying the mandate to be part of the rail bill this year.

Critics of investment in PTC argue that well over 90% of rail accidents in this country are due to cars and trucks either stopped on a level crossing or crossing unsafely - so that the majority of train accidents in this country cannot be prevented by PTC and, indeed, are themselves an additional side-effect of our heavy reliance on road transport.

Indeed, part of the strong safety record of the high speed rail overall is due to the fact that very high speed sections of both networks are completely grade separated from motor vehicle traffic. Positive Train Control is then directed to the two remaining principle safety risks of derailment due to operating at excessive speed and train collisions due to the driver of one train not observing the priority of another train.

Steel Interstate corridors may receive grade separation upgrades, and for the at-grade crossings remaining, the main Steel Interstate corridors will be provided with upgraded crossing gates. Indeed, some upgraded level crossing gates currently being trialed are backed by suspension cable and lock into a receiving post to form a barrier that can stop a pick-up truck traveling at 40mph in under 15 feet. And unlike a "dumb" level crossing, even one equipped with a crossing signal and bells, an upgraded level crossing gate can integrate into a PTC system, to automatically brake the train if there is an obstacle like a parked car or truck preventing the gate from closing.

At the same time, the Steel Interstate relies on the provision of 60mph heavy freight and 90mph rapid freight "slots" in the system. Mixing these two classes of freight together effectively, and running safely alongside conventional bulk freight, requires Positive Train Control for both safety as well as for improved capacity versus operating on rail corridors with "dumb" signals.

So I will be following with interest the progress of the new rail appropriation through Congress, to see whether a delay of the implementation of PTC is approved, and if so, at what terms.

And hoping that I never have to read, regarding another fatal train wreck in the United States, "The causes of the excessive speed are still not known. The line where the accident occurred is still not within the [Positive Train Control] System, a rail traffic mnagement system preventing a train from exceeding the established speed limit or disobey stop signals."

Conversations, Considerations and Contemplations

As always, rather looking for some overarching conclusion, I now open the floor to the comments of those reading.

If you have an issue on some other area of sustainable transport or sustainable energy production, please feel free to start a new main comment. To avoid confusion among those who might be tempted to yell "off topic!", feel free to use the shorthand "NT:" in the subject line when introducing this kind of new topic.

And if you have a topic in sustainable transport or energy that you want me to take a look at in the coming month, be sure to include that as well.

Originally posted to Voices on the Square on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Sunday Train, Climate Hawks, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The backbone of this country's broken ... (103+ / 0-)

    The land is cracked and the land is sore
    Farmers are hanging on by their fingertips
    We cursed and stumbled across that shore ...

    Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

    by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 04:57:24 PM PDT

  •  My impression was that the train operator... (14+ / 0-)

    ...was a bit of a hotshot, who seemed to want to see if he could get a Talgo train to ride on only one line of wheels around a curve. Yes, train control would have have been a life-saver, but if it ain't installed, well, it don't work.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 06:08:14 PM PDT

    •  Its not clear whether that is true ... (27+ / 0-)

      ... or whether that is damage control by the the Spanish passenger rail service ...

      ... odds would seem to be in favor of damage control, management shifting the blame onto the train operator to avoid criticism.

      Indeed, there has been much made of the train operator posting to facebook a picture of a 200km/hr speed on the speedometer of the train, but that was, after all, the speed that the train was supposed to go when operating on the high speed sections of the corridor.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 07:39:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Speed should be easy to estimate from the video. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Measure the length of track covered in he video and divide by the elapsed time.

        Reaganomics noun pl: belief that government is bad, that it can increase revenue by decreasing revenue, and unregulated capitalism can provide unlimited goods for unlimited people on a planet with finite resources.

        by FrY10cK on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 04:08:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The operator has confessed this morning (7+ / 0-)

        He said he thought he was circulating through another track section. He said he tried to use the brakes and did but was already to late

        This is a clear case of human error. All the data police have from phone calls and eventually the tracking devices from the train (not sure if those have been fully analyzed).

        Off course the accident would have been avoided if that segment had the automatic breaking system that most of the high speed lines have during most of their tracks.

        •  pure operator error (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Iberian, BruceMcF

          but you have to figure that any person will make mistakes given enough time.

          •  Not pure operator error ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... an operator with 30 seconds to correct an error when one system exists that would have automatically corrected it, if ERTMS had been installed in the last 4 miles of the 54 mile section, and ERTMS had been operational on that train, and another system exists, digital ASFA, that would have given more prompt and clearer warning in event of operator error than the existing analog ASFA, which they did not upgrade when they connected this conventional corridor to the high speed rail line and starting running 110mph trains along this corridor.

            See the update linked to above the fold in the essay.

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            by BruceMcF on Tue Jul 30, 2013 at 10:21:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  if you don't have PTC can you have GPS control? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        PeterHug, KenBee, BruceMcF

        GPS is cheap and widely available, load a map into
        the device and have it ring an alarm if you are exceeding your speed for the area?  if the alarm isn't handled
        then it send a general alarm to the train and alerts the conductor and rail central?

        or even trips a deadman switch?

        it's harder to do that on underground but a surface train could easily integrate GPS and INS to
        give map alerts

        •  GPS control is integrated into the ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... ERTMS system, but it has to be operating in a corridor equipped with ERTMS for the automatic override to be active ... in a corridor with dumb signals, its the train operator who has to interpret the signals.

          Some form of limited over-ride based on train position alone might have helped in Santiago, but it wouldn't help prevent collisions between trains, as with the Chatworth train collision in Los Angeles in 2008.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 09:33:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Too bad we can't talk to.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bigjacbigjacbigjac, radarlady

        ...the other train crews. They know the wheat from the chaff....

      Compost for a greener piles?

      by Hoghead99 on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 08:04:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's this from El Pais ... (31+ / 0-)

        Los compañeros del maquinista del tren de Santiago alaban su prudencia como conductor de trenes (26 Jul 2013)

        "Le doy 50 euros por cada persona que me traiga que hable mal de él". La imagen de Francisco Garzón que se ha construido, la de un conductor irresponsable que presume en su Facebook de la velocidad que alcanza con su vehículo, no es la que tienen sus compañeros de trabajo ni sus vecinos. Más bien es la contraria. En lo personal y en lo profesional. El amigo que está dispuesto a dilapidar el salario de maquinista de Renfe a cambio de que le presenten enemigos del conductor del Alvia justifica hasta la ya famosa imagen volcada en su perfil social con el velocímetro a 200 km/h: "¿De qué se escandalizan? Es la velocidad a la que tiene que ir el tren".
        Translated at the European Tribune by Migeru as:
        Coworkers of the Santiago train driver praise his prudence as a train driver

        "I give you 50 euros for each person you bring me who speaks ill of him". The constructed image of Francisco Garzón, that of an irresponsible driver who boasts on Facebook about the speed of his vehicle, is not that of his coworkers or neighbours. Rather the opposite. On personal and professional matters. The friend who's willing to give up his Renfe driver salary to meet alleged enemies of the Alvia driver even justifies the infamous image from his social profile with the speedometer at 200 km/h: "Where's the scandal? That's the speed the train is supposed to go at".

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        by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 08:25:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Can you elaborate on the degree to which (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hoghead99, jrooth, JVolvo, BruceMcF

          train operators can engage in the same kinds of activities that potentially increase car or truck operator risks for accidents and whether those activities would pose a less or more elevated risk than for car or truck operators? That is, is it safe to assume that they also text, e-mail, converse by phone, eat whole meals, or other distracting activities while "driving," or are they monitored to regulate their activities while controlling the train? Does automation of the system or vehicle operation mitigate potential for disaster if the operator is engaging in distracting activities, or does it make little difference if an emergency situation occurs? I don't think this is "NT" but I will be operating a motorcycle for trip from east coast to Chicago this week and do not/cannot engage in too many distracting activities. What I do notice is how oblivious (increasingly) so many fellow drivers are in cities and on the open road as they distract themselves with any number of non-driving activities. Perhaps I could get a willing passenger to do an informal count as to (perhaps snap photos of) how many people are on their cell phones, texting, or eating their Quarter Pounders and fries while not maintaining consistent speed or remaining in their lanes, but it seems to me that in these cases, too, the risk for mishap increases for car/truck drivers for a number of reasons (not running on rails, other vehicles or concrete barriers to cut off or hit, a shoulder to spin off onto).  I've thought of snapping those pics myself but then, of course, would be in no better position than those whose pictures I'd be attempting to snap, I suppose.

          I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

          by dannyboy1 on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 05:05:12 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I don't know (11+ / 0-)

    if PTC is up and running on Metrolink, but they bought a lot of new cars with crumple zones, including new cab cars (with all the seats facing away from the cab) after that mess.

    add: PTC is being installed, but it's still in construction and testing. They have rebuilt a lot of the grade crossings to make it harder for people to get onto the tracks or go around the gates.

    (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

    by PJEvans on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 06:29:20 PM PDT

  •  Wouldn't a more relevant way (8+ / 0-)

    of comparing US and Spain auto fatalities be based on the number of miles driven?   In which case the US is measurable better.

    •  To some degree, yes (17+ / 0-)

      But part of our problem with cars is the amount of driving the typical American HAS to do, barring finding a mythical transit-accessible job and a mythical affordable house in a safe, walkable neighborhood.  

      Figure it will take us at almost a decade, and my retirement, to unwind that problem.

    •  Having driven in both places (20+ / 0-)

      I'd say the roads are much better in the US but the drivers here are generally worse.

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 06:57:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You mean the roads *used to* be better (4+ / 0-)

        in the U.S. My god, the last time I drove in California (that would be last year), the conditions of the freeways I drove on from San Diego to Anaheim and thence to LA, Santa Clarita and environs were absolutely appalling.

        Spain's freeways are mostly in bad shape for the same reason — no one's spending the necessary money for upkeep and repairs.

        •  I wasn't thinking of the freeways so much (10+ / 0-)

          Spain has a lot of very mountainous two-lane roads that I found to be rather treacherous.

          If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

          by Major Kong on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 05:26:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  US 2-lane roads and their drivers (NT) (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            stormicats, BruceMcF, bill warnick, gmats

            I can't compare roads or drivers here to those in Spain, but I can say this: last week I was nearly run off a two-lane highway that crosses multiple ridges of the Coast Range in California by an aggressive tailgater. This driver was not texting and probably not impaired; he was fully engaged in putting his "ultimate driving machine" through its paces and infuriated that he was stuck behind me for a mile or two until I found a gravel turnout I could swerve onto without actually crashing. The incident has led me to speculate that some percentage of single-car accidents in which someone goes off a twisty road may have been induced by tailgating.
            So yes, as the diarist said, we do in the US accept far too high a traffic fatality rate, and IMO it's at least in part because of a widespread cultural assumption that the impatient jerk is always in the right, and the idiot putting along at an unsatisfactory speed is in the wrong.
            Some advice to my fellow Californians (and others) who may, on their way to or from summer recreation in our mountain ranges, find yourself behind a vehicle going slower than you would prefer: the closer and faster you tailgate that driver, the harder you make it for them to  get out of your way safely.

            "Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous." -- Molly Ivins

            by dumpster on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 11:58:57 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Fairly obviously not ... (12+ / 0-)

      ... what's important about the way we organize the passenger transport system is how many people survive it per year, not how many miles people get to go before they get killed in a given year.

      We organize our transport system to force people to drive more miles in a year, but evidently any resulting benefit in reducing fatalities per miles driven per year does not result in a benefit per person per year.

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      by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 07:46:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maybe what forces Americans (3+ / 0-)

        to drive more miles is that we live in a much larger, less densely populated country?

        And I"m pretty sure that statistically speaking, this is bunk:

        reducing fatalities per miles driven per year does not result in a benefit per person per year
        Heck, we had the fatalities per miles driven per year that Spain does, 10,000 more people would be dead each year in this country.  Just trying to tell the resulting un-dead people that that's not a benefit (again, statistically a few of them are suicide candidates so they're probably not happy about that, but overwhelming majority prefer being alive to being dead).
        •  Not really. Like 80% of the US lives in places (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          patbahn, BruceMcF, Mindful Nature

          with as much or more population density than Spain.  But the thing is that other countries (including Spain) get it and at least provide more extensive options beyond auto travel.

        •  But that's the measure that you are objecting to? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          congenitalefty, Larsstephens
          reducing fatalities per miles driven per year does not result in a benefit per person per year
          The mortality risk per person per year being lower in Spain than in the US is the measure that you originally objected to. As far as it being bunk, the mortality risk is either lower or higher.

          As far as the US being a larger, less densely populated country, most transport is local, so the the population density that matters the most is the local sprawl that is a result the US policy choices that subsidy sprawl.

          Indeed, as the size of the US has not increased over the past four decades as the population has increased, so that aggregate population density was declining through the entire period, and total Vehicles Miles Traveled per year increased steadily over those four decades until it hit its plateau toward the end of the previous decade, when the system of shifting wealth to sprawl property developers came unstuck, we can say that the aggregate population density of the US definitely was not driving total VMT over the past forty years.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 10:01:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What I originally objected to was the silly (0+ / 0-)

            way that you were evaluating traffic fatalities.

            Based on your endpoint, Fiji, the Palestinian Territories,  and Mozambique all do better than Spain.  And MUCH better than the USA, I suppose one could say by extension.

            Yet none of them have all that much in the way of advanced train infrastructure and service.

            The point being, if people wish to travel by automobile, which American like to do, a reasonable metric comparing their safety of doing so with other countries necessarily involves some accounting for the relative miles (or kilometers as the case may be) driven in the various countries . . ..

            •  It would be absurd to claim that ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              ... American's inclination to drive is primarily caused by a "love of driving". Its a result of policies that subsidize driving and in many instances prevent alternatives to driving to be available for many transport tasks. Indeed, the subsidies that the US provides for driving relative to other countries in the world over predict our reliance on driving, which is more consistent with the policies forcing people to drive where they would rather use another mode of transport if they had the alternative.

              Just because mortality per vehicle mile driven is a statistic that makes the carnage on US roads look relatively better is not sufficient reason to use it. That would be cherry-picking the data.

              Based on your endpoint, Fiji, the Palestinian Territories,  and Mozambique all do better than Spain.  And MUCH better than the USA, I suppose one could say by extension.

              Yet none of them have all that much in the way of advanced train infrastructure and service.

              Yes, the Sunday Train advocates sustainable, renewable transport of all types, including substantial reliance on Active Transport.

              Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

              by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 12:25:21 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  30,000 dead/yr is ~ 1% chance of dying due to cars (9+ / 0-)

    It has long bothered me how casual we are about that number of people getting mangled to death.

    •  Another way to set the comparison ... (10+ / 0-)

      ... is that in 2007, the peak year of US casualties in Iraq, we lost 904 of 961 total coalition casualties, and in 2010, the peak year of US casualties in Afghanistan, we lost 499 of 711 coalition casualties, versus over 600 passenger road transport causualties per week.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 08:00:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  To be fair, we've come a long way (6+ / 0-)

      The auto death rate is 1/7th what it was in 1950, and the absolute number of deaths is the same as in 1960, when we had fewer than half the cars on the road (and far fewer miles driven).  It's come down based on fifty-plus years of common sense regulation on manufacturers, sellers, buyers, owners, and drivers.  I call it "car control", and it's been a huge success.

      Now, I'm used to bringing this up in the context of gun debates, to highlight the difference between the success of car control and the head-in-the-sand we do with guns.  Did you know that while car deaths are dropping every years, gun deaths hold steady, and  will outnumber auto deaths by 2015?  Or that it already does in some states?  That's because of car control (and we didn't have to ban or confiscate cars!)  And no politician has ever faced major heat for car control, either--- people understand its utility.

      I'm not bringing up guns to get into that debate or to change the subject, but to highlight the progress we've made in automobile safety, by contrasting it to another aspect of American culture that involves massive amount of death that we're casual about.  Just to say, when it comes to car deaths we aren't that casual.

      Every woman is the boss of what goes into her vagina, and what comes out. Not you, not me, not the GOP.

      by nominalize on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 08:55:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We have come a long way ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ... from even more obscene levels of carnage ...

        ... but there is only so low than you can reduce the risk of mortality in transit in a system that relies this heavily on self-chauffeured automobile transport.

        Indeed, the relative comparison could help feed complacency, as getting to the present rate of carnage via an even higher rate yields "progress we have made" that could distract some from the long way we have to go.

        Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

        by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 10:14:04 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this Bruce! (16+ / 0-)

       I too wonder what the investigation will reveal.

       Have you heard anything new about the Quebec horror? That's another investigation to watch.

       I am of the opinion that a majority of the transportation employees in this country operate sleep-deprived a significant portion of their day. That's everyone, truckers, railroaders, barge crews, you-name-'em. Just my 2 cents........

    Best, HH99

    Compost for a greener piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 07:04:26 PM PDT

  •  Quebec question..... (7+ / 0-)

       Did the locomotives go down the hill with the train, or just the train?

    Compost for a greener piles?

    by Hoghead99 on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 07:59:22 PM PDT

  •  whoa! i need more than tonite to read this (9+ / 0-)


    wow - i feel like i'm in a time capsule or in the wayback machine - this is the quality of the original daily kos stuff.

    thanks and i WILL be back to read this tomorrow nite!

    EdriesShop Is it kind? is it true? is it necessary?

    by edrie on Sun Jul 28, 2013 at 11:58:56 PM PDT

  •  Almost every evening I have the PD scanner on, (8+ / 0-)

    and that's most evenings, there's at least one "wrong way" driver reported on the local freeway system here in central Ohio.  On many evenings there are a couple of these incidents.

    While it's amazing that most of these result in no injuries or fatalities, years ago there were a spate which did -- leading to a mass signage upgrade to most of the exit ramps (which basically amounted to embedding red pavement reflectors and erecting "WRONG WAY" signs facing drivers errantly entering the freeway via an exit ramp.

    Of course to confused, distracted, intoxicated, illiterate or just plain stupid drivers, signs and reflectors are merely blurred curiosities. There's nothing in place to physically prevent a vehicle from traveling the wrong direction on these ramps.

    Not that there couldn't be. For years there have been directional traffic controls available ("treadles" was the term I remember) which would maybe not prevent all determined wrong-way drivers from entering a freeway -- but would damn sure make it a whole lot more difficult.

    The GOP's real energy plan: "Drill, Baby, Export."

    by here4tehbeer on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 02:49:51 AM PDT

    •  Tire shredders sound better than (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      US Blues

      head on collisions.

      I lived in Houston for ten years,
      and they have High Occupancy Vehicle lanes there,
      one lane,
      with room to break down,
      and let traffic pass.

      The one lane is enclosed by concrete walls.

      The one lane is one way,
      into the city,
      in the morning,
      and one way,
      in the afternoon.

      Cops use them at will,
      even when closed at night.

      Once or twice,
      in that ten years,
      some driver went around barricades
      in the middle of the night,
      when it was closed,
      and hit a cop car head on.

      Bringing a child into the world at this point in history is a crime, the crime of child endangerment.

      by bigjacbigjacbigjac on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 03:11:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am a stubborn, narrow-minded man. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I refuse to look at risk
    in the way anyone else looks at risk,
    at least when it comes to transportation.

    Comparing driving to flying,
    for example:

    I insist
    that to look at risk,
    we must establish a unit,
    similar to the chambers
    in a revolver,
    when playing Russian roulette.

    Most folks don't like
    Russian roulette,
    since the odds of getting killed
    at any one pull of the trigger
    are one in six.

    what do we use as units,
    units of travel,
    when comparing the risk
    of driving
    to the risk
    of flying.

    The unit I accept in driving,
    is a trip,
    start the engine,
    moving on streets,
    then park,
    turn engine off,
    and get out of the vehicle.

    Running several errands
    might mean several trips in one day.

    My question is,
    in America,
    we have one road fatality
    for how many trips?

    I estimate
    one death
    per one million trips.

    Great safety record.

    Now flying.

    My unit for flying
    is one take-off and landing cycle.

    I estimate
    one plane crash,
    with everyone dead,
    for each 500,000 take-off and landing cycles.

    Fairly safe,
    but half as safe as driving.

    If the airline industry
    ever tabulates
    and releases
    the number of take-off and landing cycles
    per fatal crash,
    then we may have a much more accurate number
    than my guess,
    if they tell the truth.

    But the stupidest scam,
    and the stupidest public for accepting it,
    is the passenger-mile unit.

    Airlines carry
    lots of passengers in each aircraft,
    and travel lots of miles with them.

    That means passenger miles
    as the unit
    is cheating,

    They know the take-off and landing cycle
    is the only reasonable unit.

    most dangerous jobs

    Table of ten most dangerous jobs, by hours-based fatality rate
    1. Fishers and related fishing workers
    2. Loggers
    3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
    4. Extraction workers
    5. Farmers and ranchers

    most dangerous jobs, alternate source

     Top 10 Deadliest Jobs in the United States:

    Fishers and related fishing workers 2, 1, 1, 1

    Logging/timber workers 1,2,3,3

    Pilots 3, 3, 4, 2

    Military service personnel, X, 2, X, X*

    Structural iron and metal workers 4, 4, 5, 4

    Refuse and recyclable collectors X, 5, 6, 5

    Drivers, sales 5, 8, 9, 9

    Roofers 6, X, X, 8

    Electrical power line installation and repair 7, 7, 8, 7

    Farmers/ranchers/agricultural workers 8, 9, 7, 10

    Truck drivers 10, 8, 9, 9

    Construction workers 9, 10, 10, X  

    If pilots die so much,
    it's because planes crash so much,
    that within one pilot's career,
    there is a higher chance of death
    than most other jobs.

    frequent flyer passengers
    and pilots,
    are more likely to die
    while travelling
    than truck drivers,
    and truck drivers much more likely
    than regular commuters.

    How many folks do you know
    in your personal circle
    of family and friends,
    who died in a car crash?

    I have none,
    and my father was a travelling salesman
    for many years,
    driving as much as a truck driver.

    He died of cancer
    at the age of 76.

    I don't have an estimate
    fro train travel,
    but my unit would be,
    train stopped,
    to train stopped again.

    No passenger miles.

    Of course,
    in less than 100 years,
    we will have either
    nuclear powered trains,
    or electric trains,
    using electricity generated
    by nuclear power plants,
    or steam trains
    burning wood,
    which is renewable,
    if used in small amounts.

    And horse and mules.

    Grass and hay,
    renewable in small amounts.

    Bringing a child into the world at this point in history is a crime, the crime of child endangerment.

    by bigjacbigjacbigjac on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 03:02:59 AM PDT

    •  your assumption about flight numbers is wrong. (4+ / 0-)

      that pilots category is all pilots, not just commercial airline pilots.

      commercial flight is one of the safest modes of travel on the planet. That's not just via passenger-miles. It's also via flight-hours.

      if you meant general aviation, then yes, you'd have a slight point, but still, it's safer to fly there than it is to drive, statistically. There's roughly 1 to 2 deaths in general aviation per 100,000 flight hours.

      Anyway, your odds of dying in a car accident is 1 in 415. Your odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 7,229. Data comes from here.

      tropical weather season is here black lives mean nothing in America. being white must be amazing.

      by terrypinder on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 06:38:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  But then you are ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... taking the design of the transportation system for granted, which isn't really appropriate for a transportation policy series.

      That is, redesign the transport system so that half of those car trips that are one mile or less are replaced by walking or cycling. But retain the same driving share on longer trips.

      The bulk of the traffic fatalities take place on longer trips than one mile, but some fatalities do happen in short trips, and walking is safer than driving on a per trip basis, and cycling in the presence of a large number of cyclists is safer than driving on a per trip basis, so total risk of dying ...

      ... so you have both reduced the risk of dying in an accident, and increased the per-trip risk of mortality while driving.

      Most people would take less risk of dying during a year's getting around over more risk, yet the per-trip risk of driving mortality has gone up.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 10:10:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  And in train crashes you can find the bodies (0+ / 0-)

    whether they are alive, injured, or dead. Not the same case when a jetliner plows into the ground or water at 300+ mph. Sometimes can't even find the pieces.

    Ash-sha'b yurid isqat an-nizzam!

    by fourthcornerman on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 03:54:26 AM PDT

  •  If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's (0+ / 0-)

    surely that this wouldn't have been nearly the catastrophe that it turned out to be if only it had happened in Florida and George Zimmerman had been lurking nearby to rescue everybody.

  •  The Spanish rail system is up for a contract (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in Brazil to build a high-speed line, but one of the conditions is that the winner can not have had a high-speed train accident in the last five years.

    Zero accidents in the last five years.  That is quite a standard to uphold, and most operators do it routinely.

    Every woman is the boss of what goes into her vagina, and what comes out. Not you, not me, not the GOP.

    by nominalize on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 08:48:11 AM PDT

    •  i wish them well nonetheless (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bill warnick, melo

      its important for them, indeed, that this accident is found to be unrelated to tech issues (other than meta-tech issues if I may call them so, as e. g. the absence of an automatic rail control and overriding external braking system - the ERTMS mentioned in the diary).

      all the more, the accident investigation will have to make sure to go over all the possible technical sides in depth, just because there´s a potential incentive for closed eyes. I would trust their industry professionals by default on this.

      I would less trust their politicos and top managers.

      that all said, Spain is in dire straits and the rail industry is one of the not too many industries that have been prospering in Spain and really they could use such a contract. Also it would be good for Brazil (who have totally mindlessly, mind-bogglingly self-dismantled their passenger rail system end of last century, doing the bidding of - mostly US - car companies. Their rail net had been the best of the continent and its dismantling was a prime piece of corruption-capitalism that held sway there after the dictatorship).

  •  High speed rail accidents are very rare. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, marsanges, melo

    But they do happen.  This accident resembles the horrible Eschede disaster in some spooky ways, and may end up with a very similar body count.

    The causes are almost certain to be different, though.  The German ICE train that crashed in Eschede wasn't speeding; it was using two-piece wheels with steel "tires" to give a smoother ride, and one of the rims came loose and punched through the floor of the train.  The part sticking down tripped a switch, forcing the train onto two tracks, which derailed it at nearly 250 km/hr.  It hit a road bridge, which collapsed onto it...

    A chain of events which led to over 100 deaths, and was directly attributable to negligence on the part of Deutsche Bahn; in hindsight, the duobloc wheels they chose turned out to have massive fatigue problems, even in light rail trams going 20 km/hr...let alone the 15x speed ICE trains traveled at.

    And yet, like many such accidents, it made high speed travel much safer.  ALL the train services in Europe converted to the much safer monobloc wheels after that disaster, including ICE, and there wasn't another one due to equipment failure until now (and the jury is obviously still out on the cause of the Santiago crash).

    •  Since there WAS no equipment ... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ArchTeryx, Hoghead99, Larsstephens, melo

      ... in place to slow down the train automatically if it was operating outside the safe speed envelope for the route ...

      ... it seems less likely that there was an equipment failure.

      All it takes is a confusion by the driver which section he is on, and so not looking for the upcoming speed limit indicator at the right place, and you can easily have a train going 110mph with the driver not seeing a speed limit indicator until well after the point that a 110mph train has to start braking to get its speed down to 50mph.

      After all, when relying on dumb signals on a transition from a 110mph corridor to a corridor with 50mph maximum speed curves, it only takes one human error to cause a derailment.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 10:20:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, that's why I said the jury was still out. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BruceMcF, Larsstephens

        The raw film I've seen of the crash certainly makes it look like an overspeed incident, and confusion about signalling can easily be a cause.  But I try to wait until the local authorities make their call - there's lots of things that could have gone wrong instead of, or in addition to, the overspeed problem.

        The Eschede chain of events included some elements that weren't deduced until weeks after the incident, and the discovery of the duobloc fatigue problem - the root cause of the disaster - took months.

        •  One point to bear in mind ... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Larsstephens, ArchTeryx

          ... is that Spain has been under severe austerity policies for quite a while. So, for instance, there is an open possibility that the train was not as well maintained as it should have been.

          If the brakes were underperforming due to postponed maintenance, that could easily have been a contributory cause to the severity of the accident even if driver error was the primary immediate cause of the accident and the attempt to brake was being made too late to prevent derailment.

          Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

          by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 29, 2013 at 12:16:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  thank you for writing about this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    this accident really was a harsh shock for all of Spain but also way beyond all across Europe. Actually the day after, the German Bundesbahn was having a routine press conference about standard accountancy issues, but the Bahn chief presenting there couldnt bear getting to it blithely, having a quite emotional hommage of silence in the begiining. That wasnt show. The thing that sets this accident apart was that it looks like it was an absolutely unnecessary, just reckless thing. A train driver - maybe numbed by experience? who knows - playing with the devil once too often, and getting eighty people  dead (and one shouldnt forget the other score, the two dozen critically injured). After the initial shock, there were the obvious comparisons with Schettino (for Americans: the Captain of the cruise ship recklessly run on the rocks in Italy recently). The Schettino case also got an entire country in uproar, but it was still different, it had an element of grossness which made it easier to deal with. Schettino couldnt face his utter failing, he fled the scene in ignominy and he had to be ordered back by enraged onland locals who couldnt believe that a man could debase himself so in dereliction of duty as Schettino did. This train driver xase is different. It appears (at this writing) that his recklessness is really the base cause, and it dooms him to harsh and uncompromising judgement. But, this man realized what he had done at the moment when it happened (cf. his cry to God and his messages from the wreck) only, to no avail. Yet he stayed and he said rightaway, these dead are on his conscience. Thereby he showed that he has one, a recognizable shape of a soul other than the ignominy of Schettino. It is of course futile - the dead are dead and the train driver has to bear the consequences of his recklessness. But he is not even an anti-person like Schettino - one that one can contrast oneself to, hoping that the distinction is clear. The train driver could have been any one of us, nowhere bad, nowhere willing anyone harm, but ... I myself have once driven a car and overtaken another van - mafia style - needed to get a message to them aboard - in the face of a sudden opposing car and we three cars avoided a crash by a fraction of a second. How did I dare? It was inexcusable, it could have taken the lives of five young students, but I did it anyways. I spent a good hour at the roadside later that day swearing at myself. This is all minmal compared to this accident, but this character is why it stands out. So unnecessary - so much harm to so many people - and a culpable person who at the same time is honest enough to not lie to himself about it. We can not point to any otherness here to lay blame. Not a criminal (now yes of course, but not before), not a coward, not any "so and so" estrangeable character, simply one of us. This could have been anyone of us who did this.    

  •  Yes, thank you for writing a very eye-opening (0+ / 0-)

    (to me) diary.  It's shocking, really, the number of deaths we "accept" from traffic accidents.

  •  there is a further article today (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in El Pais - whose reporting, I have to say, has been outstanding on this accident. really h/t to that newspaper.

    you - diarist - may want to get that article translated if you dont speak spanish ( I dont, I can just piece together what it says.)

    •  More critical to the essay ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ... is the news from El Diario that Migeru has translated a critical excerpt from regarding the signalling system in place, which was not even the best back-up signalling system available.

      I've posted a follow-up article about this information at Voices on the Square, the home station for the Sunday Train.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Tue Jul 30, 2013 at 10:17:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  thank you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and this is indeed a very important second layer of causation. More redemption for the train driver. The accident remains his error, yet this (as described there) is unbelievable track design.

        completely agree with your provisional end assessment

        Or, in short, a human erred, causing the crash. And humans will err. A well designed safety system takes this into account, but it appears that corners were cut in the sections of conventional rail corridor connecting to high speed rail corridor
        that is what the investigators will have to (hopefully will) look at in great earnestness.

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