The National Transportation Safety Board’s special investigation into Norfolk Southern is, unfortunately, a result of one of those instances when all the planets have aligned: Angry shippers venting their frustrations, dissatisfied employees
Author: Doug Riddell
Aside from having been a locomotive engineer for 35 years, preceded by a decade in broadcasting, I have offered my insight into the ground pounder’s life on the railroad in books, magazines,
Having worked into Washington D.C. Union Station from the South my entire Amtrak career as a locomotive engineer, I’m excited yet apprehensive about the acquisition of dual-power and battery-hybrid motive power and integrated trainsets from Siemens Mobility, because it’s going to require the type of commitment to maintenance and service that’s historically been haphazard at Amtrak, at best.
I began using a CPAP machine in 2008—four years before I retired from my career as a locomotive engineer—and I continue to do so religiously. I didn’t have to be badgered or threatened. It wasn’t made a condition of my continued employment. My motive was and remains strictly self serving: I want to live.
The late Louis W. Menk once said that locomotive engineers were “nothing more than glorified truck drivers.” Those words stuck in my head throughout my 35-year railroad career—mostly spent as a locomotive engineer. To be quite honest, the thought of them angered me every time I climbed into the cab of my locomotive. I was determined to prove him wrong—to be the best damn engineer in the world.
On June 8, the Associated Press reported that Virginia authorities had indicted a garbage truck driver on charges of involuntary manslaughter and driving under the influence, after he allegedly drove into the path of an Amtrak charter train carrying Republican members of Congress, near Charlottesville.
What I’m going to suggest will probably have the risk assessment people doubling over in laughter, but since I’m merely a retired locomotive engineer—not an attorney or a bean counter—my perspective is totally different. It’s void of possible legal implications and liability concerns that cause simple, straight forth suggestions from well-intentioned front line employees, to be summarily dismissed by management. Before you toss this in the mental wastebasket, please hear me out.
Until I draw my last breath, I’ll remember that the speed on the curve at Dry Wall is 55 MPH. There were 331 speed restrictions on the 330 miles of the former B&O between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, Pa. (as well as 22 open train order towers) I had to know to qualify as the engineer of Amtrak’s Capitol Limited in 1986, but I’ll never forget that one.
Kenneth Kermit Kitts was not only the man who facilitated the interview that resulted in my being hired as a switchman on the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad in 1977. He was my mentor and friend. He also had the undying respect of every man and woman who ever worked for, or personally knew him. He died Jan. 23, 2018.
I read with interest Railway Age’s most recent reporting of the failure of Amtrak’s safety culture. From a retired employee’s perspective, let’s admit that the “S” in safety is a dollar sign. Railroads institutionally (not just Amtrak) preach safety but practice inconsistency when it comes to implementation.