Amtrak off the rails: trainsplaining railroad operations to the idiots at CNN

They’re saying stupid shit about last night’s Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, of course. I’ve ridden through Frankford Junction dozens of times, so I’ma set them straight right now. More to come if I hear more stupid shit:

1) The speed restriction through Frankford Junction is not in place because the section runs through “residential and commercial neighborhoods.” Probably three quarters of the line from 30th Street to downtown Trenton runs through residential and commercial neighborhoods, and Amtrak is able to get its trains through that section in half an hour despite a lengthy speed restriction from 30th Street to the Philadelphia Zoo. Unless you’re the New Jersey state trooper driving Jon “Patchwork” Corzine home on the night shift (on the night shift), Amtrak is faster than driving. This means that the train, like, goes kind of fast in places that aren’t uninhabited virgin forest.

Why is the speed restriction in place through Frankford Junction? Oh, yeah, there’s a fucking curve in the way. Gee, wonder why they’d want the train to slow down for something like that.

2) CNN’s brain trust has been asking a lot of questions about whether the crash was caused by inadequate infrastructure maintenance in the Northeast Corridor. I can answer these questions:

No.

The Northeast Corridor physical plant was a scary-ass shambling mess in the seventies. These days, the track has been maintained at world-class standards for over a decade. Amtrak’s current maintenance-of-way standards are excellent throughout its network, and its standards in the Northeast Corridor are even better. Something unexpected could have gone wrong with the track, the signaling, or the overhead wiring, but if this is the case, it was a fluke, not because dispatch and maintenance-of-way operations in the Northeast Corridor are underfunded or staffed by a bunch of fuck-ups.

3) “The train had just left the station a few minutes earlier, so it couldn’t have been going that fast.” Bullshit. This wasn’t a team of 4-8-8-4 big boys trying to get a hundred cars of coal over the Wasatch crest. It was a seven-car Amfleet consist under electric power at the far end of a four-track crosstown straightaway. The Zoo curve has a speed limit of 30 mph or so, meaning that trains rarely start across the Schuylkill River from a dead stop (in my experience, never), and once the last car is past the curve and onto the bridge, they’re generally given clearance to let her fucking rip. As a rule of thumb, Amtrak and SEPTA maintain freeway speeds or better clear through the Badlands. I don’t have a very good sense of how low the speed restriction is through Frankford Junction, but it’s usually seemed faster than the Zoo curve and the northern approach to 30th Street. Last night, it seems, it was much faster, until it was much slower.

Southbound runs out of 30th Street are usually going wicked fast (i.e, over 80 mph, which is the point at which the FRA would normally start getting nervous) a bit past the far end of University City. There’s nothing stopping Amtrak from hitting Frankford Junction at a cool 125, except brakes.

4) TSA screening at train stations has nothing to do with this derailment and is useless and needlessly intrusive in any event. If you find this proposal interesting or comforting, kindly shut the fuck up.

You could have a speed train, if you just lay down the track, and keep Casey Jones out of the locomotive. Until we meet again, Enjoy the Journey (TM).

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