train vs air vs road safety

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by cp, Aug 1, 2006.

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  1. Aug 5, 2006 #26

    cp

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    SNCF runs exclusively on French government-owned rail network. Only been to France a few times, but my recollection is that there are very few grade crossings, and where they exist, they are protected with solid gates that extend completely from one end of the roadway to the other, so there is no way to drive around them. The gate comes down about 1-2 min before the train, unlike 20-30 seconds in the US.

    I am not blaming Amtrak for their safety record. In fact, I think they do a great job given what they are handed. What I would like to see is a dedicated passenger rail network, built more or less from scratch, much like the Eisenhower Freeway System was built in the 50s. This would considerably improve safety, speed, reliability and service quality. Right now, most LD trains run at a *scheduled* average speed of 45 MPH, despite being able to reach a max of 79 MPH. (The realized average speed is below 40 MPH due to delays.) On my recent trip on TxEg I understood why: frequent stops and slow-downs due to freight traffic. Also, in the NE corridor, Acela takes 3.5 hours from NYP to BOS, travelling an an average speed of 70 MPH despite it being able to reach over 140 MPH. One reason for this is that it takes forever to get out of NYC. With a dedicated passenger rail system built from scratch, you could average over 120 MPH in a high-speed coridor and about 60-70 MPH on a regular track, and this would make rail much more competitive.
     
  2. Aug 5, 2006 #27

    Amtrak OBS Gone Freight

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    Oh I can just see this now! The crossing gates coming down at Colonial Drive (State Highway 50) in Orlando FL for 1-2 minutes before an Amtrak #P091 or better yet a CSX #Q455 gets to it!!! Wowsers!!!!!!!! :huh: :blink: :lol: OBS...
     
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  3. Aug 5, 2006 #28

    George Harris

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    Not sure how accurate this wikipedia information is. A couple of years ago there was a discussion on safety in the Railway Gazette, which is a British printed international trade publication for the railway industry, that had extensive discussions on accident rates. At that time, the death and injury rate per passenger kilometer in western Europe was almost identical to that in India. India being the country regularly ridiculed in Europe for a lot of their railway practices. Of course, the passenger volume hauled in India is about equal to that for the rest of the world in total, so the raw numbers in India are quite a bit higher.

    Europe has had some rather spectacular accidents that showed some basic flaws in safety practices, such as: A fire started from a hot plate in a sleeping car in France that killed several passengers. The broken wheel derailment of a German high speed train that knocked down an overpass, and in which some of the coaches literally came apart, killing over 100 passengers. The broken rail caused derailment in England that resulted in several coaches hitting a station platform, with several deaths, do not recall the number. There are more. True, they do have fewer level crossing accidents primarily because they have fewer level crossings, and on the ones that they do have the gate closed time is intolerable by US standards, which, by the way is nominally 25 seconds in most places.

    I believe this was a very biased and light on facts article in the New York Times. Amtrak and the freight railroad have the same sort of agreements that the railroad have long had with each other when trains of one railroad operate on the tracks of another. It is similar to a no-fault type insurance set up. In essence, each party pays for their own damage and losses, regardless of cause. Negligence in this case is perjorative. The source of a defined cause does not always indicate negligence. Things go wrong at times in spite of our best efforts. Your second sentence is completely in error. The best example of this was probably the Auto Train derailment. Amtrak fixed the equipment and CSX fixed the track. Both were on the receiving end of a bunch of lawsuits. If we thing the railroad track owners are uncooperative now, what do you think they would be if they got a huge unfunded liability risk with the operation of the passenger trains?

    Wonderful idea, but completely unrealistic except for a few very high density corridors. A lot of work on capacity and speed improvements on existing joint usage tracks would get us a lot more bang for our buck.
    And if it can't be, then what do you propose?
     
  4. Aug 5, 2006 #29

    AmtrakWPK

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    In the Florida Auto-Train accident that resulted in many injuries and deaths, the government and (as I recall) juries found CSX to have been negligent and that the CSX negligence was found to be the proximate cause of the deaths and injuries, and the juries made appropriately large damage awards because of it, against CSX, WHICH AMTRAK (i.e. THE TAXPAYERS) HAD TO PAY. That should not be allowed. It is VERY bad public policy to allow anyone to contract away the natural results of their own negligence, because there is NO incentive there for that party to be diligent. This is especially true and appropriate when we are talking about a situation where, as the Auto-Train accident so clearly and obviously shows, negligence is quite likely to result in injury or deaths to the traveling public. In most situations within the U.S. legal system, you can't contract away your own liability for negligence when the natural consequences of that negligence would be a clear injury or death hazard to the general public.
     
  5. Aug 5, 2006 #30

    PRR 60

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    First, to correct a misconception: the law has not legislated away the liability of the freight railroads. It simply says that Amtrak assumes that liability. Big difference. The harmed party is still protected. Fault is still determined. The issue is who writes the check. And, also, this is the same deal that all railroads apply to operation by others on their tracks, such as trackage rights operation. It is just that passenger operations magnify the visibility.

    The concept of hold harmless is not one that sits well with many people. There is a natural desire to see fault determined and those at fault bear the costs. But hold harmless is, by far, the best deal for Amtrak. Amtrak will be the first one to tell you that. They fought long and hard to ensure that the hold harmless requirement was written into law.

    For CSX or any other freight railroad, the potential risk of having tens of thousands of people riding on their tracks is something that is unique and specific to hosting Amtrak or any other passenger operation. That risk has an associated cost. With thousands of miles of track and all the infrastructure and systems associated with that, the possibility that something could happen somewhere once while exists. That is true even with a diligent maintenance program. Even with the best people and organizations, things can and do go wrong. If that happens with a freight train, the results are one thing, but if it happens with a passenger train, the result is something else again.

    By law, the freight railroads are entitled to be compensated for all avoidable costs associated with hosting Amtrak. In the absence of a hold harmless clause, one of those costs would be assuming the liability associated with passenger trains. To determine those costs, the railroad would perform an risk assessment, assume probabilities, calculate potential liability obligations, and then include the cost in Amtrak’s annual access fee. Since the actual numbers are unknown, the cost would be an estimate, and the estimate would assume the worst. So, maybe nothing happens one year. Does Amtrak get the money back? No. So why should Amtrak pay any more for the freight railroad’s passenger liability than the actual cost? They shouldn’t. That is where hold harmless comes in.

    The hold harmless provision recognizes that the risk to a freight railroad for hosting passenger trains is real. It also recognizes that if the railroad were to assume that risk on a fault determination basis, Amtrak would have to pay for that assumption. Those payments would be very high, and may in fact be prohibitively high (ask any charter operator who has tried to have a Class 1 host a passenger movement). But, under hold harmless, Amtrak assumes that risk and Amtrak pays only the actual railroad liability costs, not one penny more. The savings to Amtrak are real and are significant. The savings more than offset the occasional payments for liability in situations that were clearly the host railroad’s fault.

    This is all very unsatisfying when an accident happens and Amtrak pays for a mistake by the host railroad. But it really is the best deal, by far, for Amtrak, and saves them tens of millions of dollars annually (at least). But does this result in the railroads skimping on maintenance? As another thread points out, Amtrak travel is very safe. The accident rate is very, very low. The number of times Amtrak has an incident because of railroad-controlled matters is even lower still. There is absolutely no evidence that corners are being cut because Amtrak assumes passenger train liability. So both Amtrak and the freight railroads must be doing something right.

    That is the situation. For Amtrak it is a choice between pay the railroads more now, or pay much less later on an incident basis. It is a no-brainer. Paying nothing now and nothing later is not an option. The freight railroads are under no obligation to host Amtrak without compensation for avoidable costs including assumed liability. That would simply mean Amtrak would not operate on the railroad.
     
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  6. Aug 5, 2006 #31

    AlanB

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    Just to expand a bit further on PRR's thoughts here with regard to skimping and/or neglecting things. One must also consider that were a freight RR to skimp on things, it's far more likely that it could be one of their freight trains that hits and breaks the rail in that substandard area. Furthermore, there is at least a chance that the derailed train includes some dangerous chemical that could kill hundreds more than would ever die in an Amtrak derailment.

    And in that case the freight RR would be fully liable for any suits arising out of that derailment. So the threat of that happening has to be kept in mind by all freight RR's, since I'm sure that their insurers are mindful of it.
     
  7. Aug 5, 2006 #32

    AmtrakWPK

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    The indemnification agreement still insulates the tortfeasor from the natural consequences of his/her own negligence. THAT is bad public policy and should not be allowed. You can argue economics all you want, it doesn't touch that fact. If punitive damages are assessed, they should never be allowed to be contractually shifted to someone other than the party they were assessed against, as when that happens they are not punitive against the guilty party. That's the whole REASON for punitive damages. That's their PURPOSE. Allowing contractual indemnification for behavior that results in punitive damages doesn't make any more sense than allowing someone who commits murder to contractually agree to have someone else imprisoned or executed instead of the murderer. And the public policy argument is the same and just as valid in each case. Your argument that the injured person is still compensated is the same as saying the victim should be just as happy if the murderer goes free as long as a substitute person is jailed or executed. The judgment against the guilty party has two components - compensation for the victim and punishment of the guilty party. Public policy should not allow either of those components to be undermined or prostituted.
     
  8. Aug 5, 2006 #33

    MrFSS

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    I hear what you are saying, but . . .

    If the host railroads didn't have the hold-harmless agreement, they probably wouldn't let Amtrak run on their lines, or charge them so much to do so that Amtrak really couldn't afford to operate on those lines.

    I don't know what that arrangement is (how Amtrak pays the host line, if indeed they do) but some private tourist railroads have had to cease operations on freight lines as they simply couldn't afford the cost imposed on them if there was no hold-harmless agreement.

    I rode behind the NW 611 some years ago on one of her last runs. We were told the reason they were retiring her to the museum was because they couldn't afford the insurance and freight line charges that were being imposed.

    Maybe someone can explain the arrangement between Amtrak and the freight lines as it is now and who pays whom for the use of the tracks.

    I retired from the insurance business (adjusting) and I have seen some mind boogling hold-harmless agreements over the years. Most of the time in construction where a sub-contractor agrees to hold harmless the general contractor. But, only for the negligence of that sub-contractor. If the general was negligent, that couldn't be contracted away. Guess that doesn't hold for Amtrak and the freight lines.
     
  9. Aug 6, 2006 #34

    sechs

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    The problem here is not Amtrak or the freight railroads that carry it doing what is in their own best interests. It is that the government allows and, as much as I can tell, encourages this, which is not in the public interest.
     
  10. Aug 6, 2006 #35

    George Harris

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    The FACT is, ladies and gentlemne, without the "hold harmless" clauses there would be no passenger trains on freight railroad company tracks, because the real and potential liablitily would so far exceed the income that it simply would not happen. When I said each paid for their own, I was talking about the real costs of repairing the real damages, not what the ambulance chasers could squeeze out of them. I am living in a place where medical costs are less then one-fourth of the US cost for equivalent quality for the simple reason that medical malpractice as it exists in the US does not exist here. There is the concept and doctors and their insurers do pay out, but it is for real costs not multi-millions for failures of the best efforts to achieve impossible results.

    George
     
  11. Aug 6, 2006 #36

    AmtrakWPK

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    Well, that FACT can be legislated away. The railroads are essentially utilities by virtue of their monopolistic character. Congress could very well fix this by a law that says that punitive damages, in the U.S., for anything coverd by the Commerce Clause, must be paid by the party against whom the damages are assessed, and cannot be contractually shifted to someone else or indemnified, except perhaps by insurance for which the guilty party paid the premium. And still require the passage of Amtrak trains. Allow indemnification for compensatory but not punitive damages. That would require basically a nearly criminal level of negligence before it would financially hit the host railroad, and it is, SURELY, in the public interest to punish that level of behavior, something the status quo does NOT do. And in these days of the feds doing everything they can to get somebody else to pay for everything, it should be a slam dunk to get those punitive damages off of Amtrak's (the taxpayers') back unless what happened is Amtrak's fault. Except, of course, for the lobbying bribes, errrrr, excuse me, campaign contributions, the railroads undoubtedly pay to the politicians to get what they want.

    Otherwise, the host railroad will only look at a very narrow cost/benefit ratio analysis when it decides what level of effort to put into making their tracks safe for travel, because if there are deaths and serious injuries, no big deal, it won't cost them a penny. All they have to worry about is damages to their freight, especially on tracks that do not go through heavily populated areas. Where's the incentive there to insure safe passage for Amtrak passengers? In fact, to be cynical, why not have relatively unsafe, rough tracks? It will discourage passenger traffic, and that is just what the host road wants anyway.
     
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  12. Aug 7, 2006 #37

    George Harris

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    Not any more, at least in law. That is a major part of what the Staggers Act did. While id did away with a lot of the regulations that controlled the railroads like a monopolistic utility, it also did away what utililty like protections there were in law. As to monopoly: ever heard of trucks?

    We are actually into a pointless arguemetn anyway. That is why I am not going try to address any of the rest of what you said.
     

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