Watching Washington, August 2018: Human life is measured in scores of years, stars in billions of miles, the national debt in trillions of dollars—all remarkably miniscule numbers compared to the petabytes of data (numbers containing 15 zeroes) generated by artificial intelligence in our increasingly knowledge-based society.
It’s going to take a while for New Jersey Transit to dig itself out of the oversize trench that oversize-ego, oversize-mouthed “Bridgegate” Chris Christie gleefully dug for it during his eight interminably long, interminably loud and intrinsically corrupt years as governor of the Garden State. Meanwhile, NJT customers are enduring the effects of Christie’s transportation starvation diet—a locomotive engineer shortage, cancelled commuter trains, and a PTC implementation program that’s behind schedule.
Why don’t the railroads have comprehensive medical fitness-for-duty standards? Why does this persist, in spite of several train collisions and derailments attributed to medical issues like untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)? This analysis of those questions considers the in-terests and relationships among the three primary interested parties: railroad management, railroad labor and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the regulator.
If ever there were a human equivalent to liver and onions—hated or loved, but no in-between—it was the late Ewing Hunter Harrison III, a chief executive of four major North American railroads, personally synonymous with the term “Precision Scheduled Railroading,” and whose mention invokes often disquieting debate on theories of management and how best to deliver shareholder value in the short- and long-term.
You know what? I kind of like National Transportation Safety Board member Earl F. Weener, who has been an NTSB member since 2010.
I thought I’d chance watching the video recording of NTSB’s July 10-11, 2018 Investigative Hearing: Managing Safety on Passenger Railroads.
Industry watchers greeted the news of the recent BNSF derailment in Doon, Iowa, as typical ho-hum news. 32 tank railcars hauling crude derailed on a stretch of track that had been compromised by floodwaters. Several of the cars were ruptured and there was a crude spill. Emergency services (BNSF and others) were able to contain the size of the spill, and residents of the area were evacuated as a precaution. Luckily for all parties involved, there was no conflagration whatsoever as a result of the derailment.
A reliable rail industry source who wishes not to be named related this story to me from on board a recent trip on Amtrak 19, the long-distance Crescent. The words speak for themselves. They are unedited:
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.
Watching Washington, July 2018: When everybody owns something, nobody accepts accountability or responsibility. Such is the circumstance of Amtrak, a near-50-year-old orphan wandering in a public policy wilderness, dependent on grudgingly provided public assistance often provided with conditions and objectives so conflicted as to suggest a Marx Brothers comedy.