Speed, schedules, and accidents                                TT00033




09/02/01 11:12

Stan Rutledge

I would like to see a copy of the order sending the Rose Bowl  Special through Puyallup that day. I have heard rumours that the Main  was blocked by work equipment, or being worked on, and the decision  was made to put the Special through on an alternate track, having at  least one stretch of 56-lb rail.  I would hope to see that the dispatcher knew this would not be  negotiated with any great speed, as the turnouts would also probably  limit the speed (probably no no bigger than #9's). I don't recall seeing pics, I don't remember seeing the wreck  (although I was told I saw it) (age 1 1/2?) but I have heard cars were  sideways and scattered as if no speed reduction was made (or at least  wasn't made in time). Anyone on the list care to fill in some more details? safety, risk Compiler  C Frissell

09/03/01 22:54

Bill Kuebler

Here's what I've learned over the years regarding this question, much of it from personal observation and the rest of it from vets who were involved.  In one sense, speeding was NOT accepted on the NP, but in another, it was. This is not a play on words, but a reference to this reality: Generally, it depended on whether or not an incident or accident happened. When it came to speeding or other rules infractions, it was often a matter of Monday morning quarterbacking.  If all went well, if the train made it over the road without causing or having a serious problem, then nobody got into trouble, speeding or no. But if there was an accident and investigation revealed rules and/or speed limit violations, well, then heads could roll. Officials generally liked to see trains 25 and 26, and other passenger trains to a lesser degree, make it into the terminals on time. That's all well and good, but I believe that anyone with any brains at all would conclude that these officials had to have known that an engineer on 25 or 26 had to have been speeding in order to make up, say, 45 minutes on the Idaho East, or 25 on the Fargo First Sub, etc. The execs sure liked it when 25 and 26 came in on time, but I doubt they cared much for knowing just why or how it was done.  In my view, Road Foreman were caught in the middle. They sensed a certain amount of pressure, whether imagined or real (and I'm convinced it was real), to get the trains over the road in good time--but at the same time were responsible for seeing to it that their enginemen adhered to the rules and speed limits. No matter how you cut it, those two tasks are sometimes mutually exclusive. They are almost always a trade-off.  It's somewhat like the FAA today, which has the dual role of 1) ensuring safety in aviation, and 2) promoting air transport. Well, as far as I'm concerned, the FAA is great at #2, but lousy at #1. Make that worthless at #1. The last time the FAA actually did something, on its own (without being prompted by Congress, NTSB, etc.), to enhance safety in a way that cost the airlines some money was...well, back when the Dead Sea was merely sick and Moby Dick was a minnow. The FAA has a "conflict of interests," pure and simple. I wouldn't necessarily go that far and say that NP road foremen had a "conflict of interest," per se, but they did have goals that, to some extent, pulled them in opposite directions at times.  The officials I knew were quite aware of the enginemen's practices in their territory, for various reasons not the least of which was that they had been, in the case of road foremen and master mechanics etc., enginemen themselves, even if in another territory, so they knew full well what the men were doing and having to do to achieve such and such running times. Generally, with passenger trains, speeds up to about 82 or 83 miles per hour (in 75 mph territory) were accepted without comment by a traveling engineer--provided a safe operation was maintained--and that's a BIG provision. A few road foreman may not have been so tolerant, but apparently most were. The ones I knew were, including Mr. Rules himself, Glenn Staeheli. Glenn once told me that he "gave" every engineer 5 miles per hour "no matter what." In some cases, even more than five.  But in 1962, things began to change on the NP, even if slowly. Things tightened quite a bit after the Granite and Evaro accidents, beginning on certain divisions at first and then spreading to others. Parkwater enginemen, especially, adhered to the 75 mph limit rather strictly after March 1962. Rocky Mountain followed soon, and then others. The on time performance of trains 25 and 26 reflect that, too. Now, the bosses couldn't have their cake and eat it too, so OT performance suffered somewhat.  I might also add that there were certain officials who simply did not tolerate ANY rules or speed limit violations under any circumstances--or at least, this is what they have told me. Other NP men have told me that, in fact, many officials really just looked the other way, a case of "not asking the question you can't stand the answer to". To nail all this down and draw final conclusions about motives is probably not possible.  It does bother me, however, for someone to say, or think, that "the NP accepted speeding" without qualification. To put it that way makes the NP sound like a slipshod outfit run by a bunch of cowboys, and it wasn't. It was run, for the most part, by a lot of top notch professional people who knew how to do a good job and still have some fun doing it. And most of them were REAL good at what they did. Anyway, speeding was NOT accepted if something bad happened, or was likely to happen. The underlying assumption was always "don't have anything go wrong."  Double standard? Perhaps. But then, it has been said that if the CCOR was strictly followed to the letter all the time, nobody would ever get any railroading done. Even Mr. Rules Staeheli once said that to me--while he was a BN official. I believe that saying is more true than not. It is most definitely true in aviation, and I've long believed that railroading and aviation--and railroaders and aviators--have a LOT in common. For one thing, they think alike. They even tend to have the same sense of logic, humor, etc.  As for today's electronic tattle tales, I believe they have done very little to enhance safety. The reason is because these little electronic all-seeing eyes are predicated on the notion that human error--make that Engineer (or Pilot) error--are the ultimate and final cause of almost every accident, and that's simply a bunch of Bovine Feces. Ever heard of ANY railroader or airman who woke up one day and said, "Gee, I think today I'll bend some metal, maybe hurt a bunch of people." ? Well, if not, then perhaps when that man makes some mistake, there is more to it than a simple, open-shut case of "you screwed up."  Sure there might have been carelessness or neglect. But what about fatigue? Was that a contributing cause (we get careless when we're tired)? What about training? The electronic spies seldom tell the whole story, even when "human error" is happening. For years and years, experts who are disinterested in the outcome of these arguments (not to mention the NTSB) have pointed to obvious fatigue as a major contributing factor in so many aviation accidents, some of which have killed hundreds of people--and yet the FAA has yet to address the problem, even after some 98 years' worth of aviation. And...the FAA's current limits on "duty day" are a joke. They are worse than what truckers or railroaders work under. (I am still subject to a 16-hour duty period. Are railroaders? Of course not, nor should they be). And all this time the public thinks that, with the FAA around, everyone's safe and all airlines are about the same.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be more wrong. But I digress.  The NP tolerated a certain amount of speeding, but it was always understood that a safe operation had to be maintained!  safety, risk Compiler  C Frissell

09/04/01 11:29

D. T. Sprau

I would tend to agree with Bill Kuebler’s assessment of "how things were" relative to speeding on the NP. And he certainly is correct about the chilling effect of Evaro wreck. I was told by my engr friends on the Tacoma division that there had been a crack-down after that and not to expect too much out of them for a while. I would say this however - NP may have had some tolerance for speeding but they had absolutely NO tolerance for most any other rule violation. Especially train orders and related rules, no matter what. This is as it should be, even though it caused me to be disciplined in 1966 (10 day suspension) for a train-order error that (from what I understand in talking to others over the years) would probably have been swept under the rug or handled with a "butt chewing" on some of the other roads.  safety, risk Compiler  C Frissell

09/04/01 18:18

Bill Kuebler

James C Dick wrote:  > "opening the face of the dial > and putting a rubber band on the arm of the recording pen. > That way you can go as fast as you want and the > recorder tape never shows anything higher than > (I believe he said) 70." I believe he commented that this > could be done on the F's and early geeps. > My question would be... Possible?, practical? Has anyone > else heard of this or seen this elsewhere?  Yes. It was a widely known trick. Several NP engineers told me about this practice, and I saw at least two or three actually do it. It was easy to do. It wasn't done all that often, because it didn't have to be done often--because most road foremen knew of running speeds as high as about 82 or 83 (in 75 mph territory) and didn't say anything about it as long as a safe operation was maintained. As noted earlier, things tightened after 1962. Even so, some enginemen did this anyway.  Bill Kuebler safety, risk Compiler  C Frissell