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U.S. Federal Railroad Administration Legalizes Lightweight Train Cars (streetsblog.org)
196 points by ceejayoz on Nov 23, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 123 comments



The first time I saw a Caltrain pulling into a station I thought it was an armoured Soviet ballistic missile train, rather than a local commuter service.


As ugly as it looks now, the previous colors (Peninsula Commute era) looked worse. It was all dark gray with a red "bloody nose":

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SP_3193_with_Train_1...


That was a systemwide thing for Southern Pacific, not specific to the peninsula. It was fairly ugly but was a known low-cost transition to deal with a tightening belt when railroads were still private (and struggling)


Looks rather like Strelnikov's train from the movie of Dr Zhivago!


The colors really don't help. I don't know who thought covering the car with what looks like corrugated metal then painting it shiny silver would be a good idea. It reminds me of a rolling farm shed.

The renderings of the proposed new electrified trains seems to be a major improvement: http://www.caltrain.com/projectsplans/CaltrainModernization....


A lot of the classic "streamline era" trains were basically covered in polished silver sheet metal


The US has a much larger loading gauge than most of Europe and especially the UK. "AAR Plate H" allows railroad cars up to 20 feet 3 inches, which permits double-stack container trains. Most UK track can now handle one-high container trains, and that took upgrades. That's what allows those huge passenger cars.


Recently moved to Europe.

I have to say the trains are ubiquitous and frequent. They seem very safe.

It's a hugely better experience.


Iunno, maybe railcar windows in the US should continue to be able to resist a .22 round.

Yes, that is a test:

http://www.hpwhite.com/ballistic-testing/railway-glass-testi...


Why is that useful? Who is able to shoot at a train without being able to either board it or spawncamp a station?

Are cars and buses tested against that standard? (Certainly bikes, ferries, streetcars, and pedestrians are not required to pass this test.)


As someone who grew up in the Deep South, I'm inclined to think it's useful for exactly what it's tested for. (At least, once upon a time.)

I'm reminded of a Usenet post I read in the '90s from an Army helicopter technician who expressed his frustration at ranchers shooting at the "black helicopters"; the technician spent too much of his time (i.e. > 0) patching the holes.


People take potshots at trains in the Midwest and West all the time. Bored teenagers with .22 rifles, mostly.


A bored teen in the Midwest with a .22 took out a window in my car.

Yet we don't require car windows to be able to withstand a .22.


Passenger trains?

If so, does this happen as often for highways? If not, why not?


No, not passenger trains. Freight trains.


Making that determination would require differentiation.


arrest them. simple. discharging a firearm at people.


How about just thinking about the problem blew for just one second. Were putting you in charge of arresting children pot shooting trains in the Midwest along about a hundred thousand miles of rural train track.

You need to come up with a system for reliably detecting hits on any part of any train (or they will aim for areas hard to detect), anywhere on a journey and immediately notifying nearby law enforcers to converge on the location before the miscreants can get away from the area. Oh, and the system has to be simple (a criterion you set for yourself), and has to be able to distinguish hits from gravel kicked up by other passing trans or the train itself.

I’m sure you worked all that out before posting and you think it’s obvious, but please enlighten those of us not as bright.


Sure any problem with vandalism and damaging other peoples property is generally tricky to resolve, but why are people with guns shooting at things that don't belong to them? Are you in favor of that behavior, indifferent to it or sadly resigned to it?


I’m against it of course, but realistically allowing children or anyone else to have unsupervised access to guns has a cost. It’s not a simple problem. It’s n the cite to if HN I’m against lazy posts that don’t add to the discussion.


> [...] allowing children [...] to have unsupervised access to guns has a cost. It’s not a simple problem.

Does everyone else feel like the quoted statement is a perfectly normal thing to say? I am asking because I sure do not. The world is full of complex problems with no simple answers, but this one, in my opinion, is not one of them.


Which answer are you referring to? I didn’t offer one. As it happens I’m for very restrictive gun laws, such as the ones in the UK where I live.


He sounds like a realist.


Anecdotally, people shoot 737 fuselages in transit by rail from Wichita, Kansas to the assembly plant in Renton, WA all the time. Boeing has a specific process for inspecting them when they arrive and patching them up. There's a lot of very rural railway in between the two locations.


Old interesting thread about this: https://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=276419


Maybe it's a good analog for things like debris or gravel being thrown by another passing train? Or rocks thrown from a bridge?



Plus the requirement that windows resist a 35 pound cinderblock hitting them at speed. And yes, that's needed.[1]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/us/projectile-problem-goe...


Bring on the light rail revolution. North America desperately needs more light rail options. High speed as well, but one step at a time.


This isn't about light rail. This is about allowing lighter train cars--that aren't designed to survive collisions with freight trains--on regional rail lines.


> that aren't designed to survive collisions with freight trains

They are designed to survive collision with freight trains. In Europe we also have freight trains on our passenger tracks. They're just designed to survive them in a different way - by deforming to absorb impact rather than being rigid to resist it.


They're designed to be survivable for the humans on the trains cars, as opposed to the cars themselves :)


Exactly. Nobody cares about the cars, it's about the contents. And a train that cannot deform, will come to a very sudden stop when it hits an unmovable object, which is not going to be good to the occupants. Crumple zones are generally better.

Downside is that that's probably where the train driver is. Preventing collisions is definitely the better approach.


The procedure is to slam the emergency brake, then run as hell, as far back as you can get.


In Europe we also have freight trains on our passenger tracks.

This is not unique to Europe. The vast majority of America's passenger rail infrastructure is on active fright rail trackage.


Yes that’s a point in the article...that’s why I said ‘also’. We have it in Europe also as in the US.


It's a grammatical issue with the parsing of the word "also" to mean "even" instead of "too".


I think the arrow points the other way in Europe. Their passenger rails are smooth for a nice ride. They run cargo over the smooth rails. In the US, once you leave the East Coast, you're on freight rails which are bumpy and annoying.


In the US, once you leave the East Coast, you're on freight rails which are bumpy and annoying.

Yeah. In a few spots, it's OK, but the majority of it is pretty bad. I take a lot of long-distance Amtrak trips, and sleeping can be hard if you haven't done it in a while and you're not used to it.

I was surprised to find that the Shinkansen in Japan is a pretty rough and unstable run, too.

Americans on the internet like to imagine Japan and its technology as perfect in every way, but the HSR between Tokyo and Kyoto can be almost sea-sickness worthy.

I don't think this is because of bad rails so much it is that the infrastructure is so heavily used, and aging, since Japan was a pioneer in this arena.


I have used that particular Shinkansen route at least thirty times in each direction. Admittedly not so much recently. I have also traveled by high speed rail in Northern Europe, for comparison.

Your experience on the Shinkansen is very different from mine. The only explanation I can imagine is that your train was travelling slowly, which can happen - rarely - in typhoon season.

Otherwise, which high speed lines have you used that did not induce seasickness in you?


It wasn’t the slow train. I had my wife with me so I splashed out for the fastest train available. It was around 7am, so I assume it was rush hours.

I’ve taken a few high speed routes around the world. KTX between Seoul and Busan. The entire Eurostar route. Others I can’t remember off the top of my head.

The best experience so far has been Trenitalia between Rome and Naples.


I did not mean to imply that slower trains such as Hikari or Kodama on that route might make one nauseous. Rather on very rare occasions, a too-slow train would let you feel the side-to-side as it banks.

Well anyway it seems to have been just a one-time experience, from which you've managed to deduce both generality and cause.

Again, from experience that's not common, so perhaps a more charitable explanation than system degradation might have been warranted. Certainly the rolling-stock is much newer than the system. The Nozomi you used would have been, at a guess 15 years or younger.


i found the shinkansen to be smooth and blissful. (sorry can't remember which one. from tokyo to somewhere to ski)


> They are designed to survive collision with freight trains

Do you have a source?


The article says it.


You're right. It does, unfortunately without citing any sources of its own.

In Europe, freight rail is less than a quarter that of the US, while passenger rail is much higher than in the US. Where tracks are shared, passenger rail generally takes priority in EU, and vice versa in the US. When reading about European railcar crash standards, I found no evidence that modern design standards include any requirements on crashing into freight trains. Just generic crumple zone requirements.


And many regional lines are also freight lines.


And pretty much all of Amtrak outside the Northeast.


Don't forget heavy rail and regional rail! European EMUs and DMUs will go a long way towards making passenger rail in the US feasible again.

It's ridiculous how few places in the US have even considered subway anymore. Seattle's light rail, for example, is pretty much a subway except for one at-grade segment.


because of cost. seattle's system is a multi billion dollar boondoggle. costs for just three stations went up by half a billion dollars on a current expansion that was to only cost two billion. systems like Seattle's burn through so much money because politicians in the local area get to decide who gets service and how instead of focusing on who needs service and where. then throw in the billions that system is already backlogged on maintenance and it will fold under its own weight if not cut back services on other parts to pay for the rail.

If you took all the money people spent to buy, maintain, and insure, their vehicles, then topped it off with the money the highway fund put into the roads to support it the cost per mile is one third what mass transit it costing.

light rail isn't flexible to the needs of a changing city. it however appeals to a romantic version of transit that does not exist nor did it ever outside of two or three cities in the world of which only one is in the US though if you push it Chicago can almost count. Instead it benefits politicians who love ribbon cutting and paying off contributors.


The cost per mile lumps in cheap to build rural roads with urban roads, pulling down the average. It also doesn't take into account the several hundreds of billions deficit in roads investment. At today's levels of investment American roads are crumbling and are barely holding together. And that's just the federal road system. Most states also have issues funding roads. And this is before we also calculate the cost of requiring all the parking to support a roads-or-nothing environment, or health externalities from pollution and inactivity.

The reality of the situation is that if you want a city to have more than Oklahoma City levels of density, while not having congestion completely strangle the economy, you need to build rail, or at least invest in usable mass transit. A two-track subway in Manhattan can carry something upwards of 80k people very reliably within twenty feet of right of way; a highway lane only carries about 2.7K per hour.


Have you ever been outside the USA? Transit obviously can and does work in the vast majority of the world.

We can’t really win the battle with roads. For one thing, we are running out of places to put new roads in big cities, so bandwidth is already pretty constrained. For another, single occupancy vehicles aren’t very energy efficient, nor can they be.


We can live in small cities. There, roads work fine.

The energy efficiency issue isn't so clear. Single-occupancy vehicles don't run empty, at least until self-driving makes it possible. In typical systems, trains are pretty empty.


I haven’t sat on an empty train in a big city in a long time. If it’s a small city without a lot of economic activity, it makes sense that your trains would run empty.


Small cities don't have trains.

Maybe you consider Boston to be a small city? They have some pretty empty trains, particularly the commuter rail. (yes it leaves the city, but that is the whole point of something that we aren't calling a subway)


That’s funny, since the last time I was on a commuter train was in Boston from Wesley to downtown. It was pretty packed as well.


  I haven’t sat on an empty train in a big city in a long time
Come check out San Jose's VTA.


I don't think the rolling stock is anywhere near the top of the list of reasons that passenger rail doesn't work in most of the US.

This change will benefit regional systems that are already established but I don't see it making much of a difference beyond that.


It's not, but it's certainly a factor. EMU and DMUs are not manufactured on a regular basis in the US due to the different requirements and the size of the market, so each order is essentially an expensive custom order. The rolling stock that does exist here usually performs less well.

Because of the cost of (and in some cases impossibility of) buying multiple-units, passenger railroads here are operated using a locomotive and some railcars; this is very inefficient, especially for commuter or regional rail which stops and starts fairly regularly. DMUs would almost certainly be cheaper and more performant to run.


Light rail is the worst of both worlds: the slowness of a bus with the route inflexibility and capital expense of rail.

Silicon Valley's VTA Light Rail has the worst rate of return of any transit agency in the country, if not the world.


The Docklands Light Railway has worked quite well. It gets you from A to B much quicker than a bus although the top speed is not high, by avoiding jams etc. It's also driverless unlike the busses.


The parent comment referred specifically to North America. No doubt London is quite different.


Where's the funding going to come from? USA has no money for infrastructure. MTA is struggling in NYC. Seattle's light rail is going to be completed in 2041+ and is being paid through a regressive car tab tax. I think it's a pipe dream that rail or transit will ever be improved other than very modestly in the USA.

Plenty of money and land for pipelines though https://i.imgur.com/IdwIHQB.gif


In other words, if we can become less dependant on oil / natural gas (i.e. pipelines for them) we'll have more money for mass transportation. The irony is, our love of personal transportation is foregoing our transition to trains and such.


>if we can become less dependant on oil / natural gas we'll have more money for mass transportation

how do you figure that?


Bump up to the comment I commented on. That said something along the lines of "but there's plenty of money for pilelines."

I wasn't figuring. I was summarizing and contexting.


Seattle's light rail is coming online one station at a time. As each station is brought onboard, ridership explodes in the surrounding community.

Tokyo's railway was built up over more than a century, infrastructure takes time.


According to the article, this change should make rail cars cheaper.


The smooth ride is great, but does anyone know how this is going to affect speed?

Would be very interesting to hear how much this would affect the Acela time (I know there are a lot of other issues affecting train speeds in that case, such as zoning).

Similarly would be cool if the upshot of this is that in 10 years, Metro North and LIRR are significantly faster.


The current Acela rolling stock is already slated for replacement with European-style cars that are lighter and faster. [1]

But you're right. For the most part the bottleneck on Acela speed is the tracks, grade crossings, overhead wires and lower speed passenger traffic, not the trains.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avelia_Liberty


I'm presuming you are coming at this from a "lighter train costs less/takes less to speed up."

Unlikely to change things, because that is a regulatory matter. Conductors are more than happy to go above the mandated speed with the existing trains (even though bad things happen), the speed limits are imposed to prevent heavy trains from taking curves too fast and to ensure they can stop in xx meters (or nn seconds).

A lighter train can do both better, but the regulations would need to take that into account.


Probably not by a lot. Acela's main issues are the fact that the line is super old and curvy. In Metro-North territory, for example, the tracks are placed too close to each other for the trains to tilt around the curves to increase their speed.

From what I understand, the new Acelas that Amtrak just ordered will be faster, and have higher tilt, though it remains to be seen how much they can actually take advantage of those features on the current Northeast Corridor. https://slate.com/business/2016/09/amtraks-avelia-liberty-is...


Improving acceleration by using electric trains is significant appeal in Europe on lines still using diesel.

Making the whole train lighter should be similar, but I don't have any numbers.


Is this why so many city metro subways have flat faces? I've always wondered why so many are not aerodynamic in the slightest.


Largely flexibility - you can build consists that contain multiple driver cars and still allow passengers to move between them, and then you can split them up and rearrange them without having to remove and reattach separate cars first. BART actually switched from angled front cars to flat front ones when they increased their fleet size, and converted a bunch of the angled ones (some were kept for effectively PR reasons). But the alternative is that you're losing space, since the maximum length of a car is determined by the track geometry and clearance of the system. Anything other than a flat fronted car is reducing volume available for passengers.


They don't move that fast, so saving space is more important. Not perhaps at the stations but at rail yards and transfers that might be underground.


In the UK most trains are fairly flat faced, however trains travel relatively slowly (compared to Europe) at a typical maximum of 100mph.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Class_450


That's essentially a local or regional train. Attaching multiple trains together and still allowing people to walk through is important.

Many local trains in Europe have a similar design, and a similar top speed.

The long distance trains in the UK do go faster and have an angled front.

It's presumable a trade off between aerodynamics and walk-through ability when connecting trains.


This specific configuration is for a commuter train, but similar trains (which can be coupled to other sets) are used on long distance routes in the UK.

As I said, the UK isn't really high speed compared to Europe. Other than the Eurostar line/HS1, all other lines throughout the UK are limited to 140mph (225km/h) or less.


I think an escape path in tight tunnels is the main concern for this design in the UK...


On metro systems (especially older ones) there are often tight constraints on train length, so that they can fit between sets of signals or points without fouling them, for example.

Pointy aerodynamic noses increase train length without increasing passenger capacity. Generally you want to maximise capacity while staying within the maximum allowed train length.


Do the aerodynamics work the same in an enclosed tunnel? Presumably at a certain point it matters less that the face isn't aerodynamic, but I've no idea how that scales.


It's for driver visibility.


I just learned about another three letter federal agency I don't care for... Sigh


I'd bet a lot of the agencies you don't care for have a very important historical reason for existing. Don't like the FDA? Read "The Jungle." Don't like the FRA? Then you're leaving the safety of billions of tons of steel and coal crossing the paths of millions of Americans over 150,000 crossings to the whims of a half dozen companies.


Can say the same about American automobile crashworthiness standards. American standards make cars few hundred kilograms heavier in exchange for few percents higher chance for one to survive a highway collision, but this itself makes almost every other collision case more lethal, simply because there are more potential collision megajoules on the road.


It's more than a few percent improvement. 2018 car models are far more survivable than what we had 20 or even 10 years ago. Check out the injury and death statistics. For a given size the weight increase in that time hasn't been anywhere near a few hundred kilograms. And with modern high-strength steel or carbon fiber the weight can actually go down, although that drives up prices.


At the same time SUVs are killing more pedestrians due to being taller than previous car models. https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2018/06/28/suvs-killi...


Here is an idea: if there is a side walk, the speed limit is automatically capped at 25mph (unless there's a sign that says the speed limit is lower).

Thoughts?


I'm sure it's like with cyclists, only when you have a critical mass of cyclists on the road, the car drivers take notice and caution. The US isn't gonna reach a critical mass of pedestrians except in dense areas where using a car isn't economic or a necessity.


Except optimizing the cars has been very much diminishing returns for 20 years now. Ban all the touch pads and widgets from cars and that is easily double the improvement from whatever car manufacturers have been doing.


A lot of what's been happening with safety features is a steady trickle down from the high-end to the average consumer car of things like automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping systems and so on.


I believe they're speaking about US autos vs other countries. The crux being, the US' reguirements bulk up autos which make them more lethal.


Why do you think there is a significant difference between the US and say, Europe? For apples to apples, is a Honda Fit really verifiably "more lethal" than a Honda Jazz? Or significantly heavier?


Consumer preference seems to drive that one, unfortunately, with SUVs and trucks outselling sedans. Even at sports car price points, people seem to spend their money on size and weight over performance and handling.


It's a prisoner's dilemma, no wonder rational actors chose to maximize personal safety by making the problem worse for everybody else. An arms race of mechanical impulse.

An intervention to restore correct incentives would impose lower speed limits for heavy personal vehicles, electronically enforced.


Like many issues in the US car market, it's exacerbated by CAFE. The light truck segment (which includes SUVs) have a less restrictive fuel economy standard and offers consumers more car for less money.

The US would be better off sunsetting CAFE and harmonizing vehicle regulations with European nations. Just like the train cars mentioned in the linked story, that would allow US consumers to buy fuel efficient cars without the market distortions caused by CAFE.


Except that it doesn't improve safety--for the driver of the suburban tank or their victim.

Better handling and braking due to a lower center of mass and less mass actually improves safety by getting into fewer accidents.


>>> An intervention to restore correct incentives would impose lower speed limits for heavy personal vehicles, electronically enforced.

That is clever and I like it. Kinetic energy limits!

Just like "allow electrics to use the carpool lane" encourages electrics, this would incentivize making smaller cars.


> "Consumer preference seems to drive that one, unfortunately, with SUVs and trucks outselling sedans."

But "preference" is also influenced by the price of gas. A few years ago when gas prices shot up, SUV sales were down, cross-over vehicles became "the thing." But now that gas is cheap again, and getting cheaper, SUV sales a rocketing up again.


Yes, people are driving the biggest vehicles they can afford to drive in any given economic climate. That’s what I mean.


If you are distinguishing SUVs from crossovers, I'm not sure what you consider SUVs to be. The SUVs that are popular are crossovers. Thirty years ago, SUVs were body on frame trucks based on pickups, but that is a very outdated concept that has gone by the wayside.


I'm considering the smaller 5 door vehicles to be crossovers. A puffed up boxed out sedan with a hatch. For example the Subaru Impreza hatch.

Those have fallen out of favor for full-sized SUVs.


In the US, some of the most popular SUVs, which I would also call crossovers are the Nissan Rogue and the Rogue Sport. The latter is sold in other countries as the Qashqai, I believe. Most SUVs today are unibody vehicles with AWD that is not intended for serious offroading nor does it have a low range. They are typically based on FWD platforms. So they are what I would call (and I think most people call) crossovers.

If we are discussing Subarus, and you call the Impreza a crossover, then you are left without a distinction between the Impreza and the Crosstrek. The Crosstrek only has a few cosmetic differences and a higher suspension, but that is what would make it a crossover to most people.

Body on frame SUVs with a selectable low range transfer case are a very small portion of the market even in the US these days. So the criticisms applicable to such vehicles aren't relevant to mass market SUVs in my mind.


The Impreza is a compact hatchback, like a Ford Focus. I think there's a wagon version too, which isn't a SUV or a crossover.


Ok. Then how about the Subaru Outback or Forester? I'm talking about vehichles styled like an SUV, but shrunk. And per this article my __general__ definition aligns.

Regardless, the point is, the price of gas drives - no pun intended - comsumer preference. Only on HN can pointless minutia / noise be used to bury a topic / thought / fact.

https://www.autotrader.com/car-shopping/suv-vs-crossover-wha...


Whatever you want to call them, the vehicles that most people buy and are generally called SUVs or crossovers no longer have a large differential in gas mileage compared to cars, which is why people prefer them.

It wasn't that long ago that I used to read comments on the internet about Americans being foolish and backwards for preferring vehicles with a trunk, instead of hatchbacks and wagons like Europeans did. Now Americans have essentially switched to hatchbacks (at least for new vehicle purchases) and yet people come up with a lot of pettifogging arguments why this is foolish and inferior because the hatchbacks are called SUVs.


Crossovers are much larger than Europeans hatchbacks, which are more like the Golf, Focus, Mazda3, etc. Despite being larger, they are not much roomier, and drive significantly worse. So again, it really looks like a preference for size over all other concerns.


I don't think that to the extent "crossovers are much larger" is meaningful, that it is accurate. Crossovers and non-crossovers come in all sizes, but we can look at the most popular.

One of the most popular mid-size crossovers in the US is the Nissan Rogue. Compared to the VW Golf (which I assume is one of the most popular hatchbacks in the place you consider normative), the Nissan is: 1.6 inches wider, 16.9 inches longer, and has 16.3 cu ft more cargo space.

The Rogue Sport is the smaller cousin of the Rogue, and compared to a Golf, is 1.5 inches wider, 4.8 inches longer, and has 7.4 cu ft more cargo space with seats down.

There is also a Golf wagon, which I think is in between the Rogue and the Rogue Sport in length.

The only substantive characteristic that defines a crossover these days that I know of is a few inches in ride height. Subaru has gone so far as to sell a crossover that is virtually a twin to a hatchback, with nothing more than a suspension lift (CrossTrek vs Impreza).


Do you have any data to back up this very broad generalization?


What exactly is being added to the car? More steel to pass some fixed collision test invented in the 1970s?


Pretty much, which means the weight goes up, which means heavier equipment, which means more wear on the vehicle and trackwork.

We went "build them like tanks". Europe went "what if we just spent all that money on not crashing in the first place?"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_train_control


Modern cars are dramatically safer than old detroit steel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPF4fBGNK0U


Yes they are.

But choosing a pre-seatbelt GM X-frame sedan to compare to is a less than honest way to prove that point to put it charitably.

The biggest improvement in road safety since 1940 has been seatbelts. Everything since has just been chasing edge cases.


Surviving crashes is nice. Avoiding them is even better, and that's been the main safety development between 1940 and now. Better tires, way better brakes, better suspensions, dramatically improved handling, hydro-assisted braking, ABS, ESP, EBD... On top of that you have all the recent innovations in computer-assisted driving, like automatic emergency braking, lane-checking, rear view cameras and sensors, car-following cruise control...


"modern" doesn't mean better.

Now we get flimsy aluminum cans just like Europe has, so we can die in crashes just like Europeans do. This is thought to make trains more appealing.

The impact hazards are different. Europe mostly doesn't have freight rail, at least nothing like the USA does. Here in the USA, our rail is almost exclusively freight. We even have a train service just for orange juice. Freight is everywhere.

Europeans take the risk, and it isn't too crazy because there is no freight. That's nice for them. We have freight.


Looking at 2017 in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rail_accidents_(2010%E..., I count 10 train passengers (not counting the 6 students on board of a school bus that collided with a train) that died in train accidents that year in Europe.

I think that is a pretty good example of a risk worth accepting. The US seems to have ~6 billion rail passenger miles (~10b km) per year based on https://www.bts.gov/archive/tet/2016/tables/ch1/fig1_16/text

https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php... claims that "Based on the latest data available (generally for 2016), there were 401 billion passenger-kilometres travelled on national railway networks in the EU (including 2015 data for Denmark and 2014 data for Hungary; excluding Belgium and the Netherlands). This figure was considerably higher than the 22 billion passenger-kilometres travelled on international journeys (based on the same data availability)"

If a full freight train crashes into a full passenger train at speed, I doubt armoring the cars is going to help much.

What will help is systems that make collisions less likely, and a system that makes passenger rail feasible in the first place (not sure if that's possible in the US, because the typical distances are just so much bigger).


I actually count 7 (1 LU, 1 BE, 3 GR, 1 FI). If you discount the crew, who face a higher risk than passengers, it's 3 (0 LU, 1 BE, 1 GR, 1 FI).

There are some worse recent accidents involving head-on collisions at significant speed [1], [2], but to see whether the resulting investigation concluded that differently-designed trains would have reduced injuries, the report (for me) needs to be in English.

For that, since the UK has the safest railway in Europe (the world?) we need to go back to 2001 [3], with a closing speed collision at 142mph / 229km/h and 10 deaths. The investigation report [4] concludes (12.10) "The crashworthiness displayed by the passenger coach body shells, when subjected to end impact, was adequate. The first five coaches had some of their survival space reduced by roof, floor and side impacts, or penetration by large missiles or other vehicles. Impact with the underside of the road bridge was responsible for roof damage. The ability of the vehicles to protect their occupants was compromised by the loss of some roof sections and window glass."

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andria%E2%80%93Corato_train_co...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_Aibling_rail_accident

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Heck_rail_crash

[4] https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130904004318/ht...


>"modern" doesn't mean better.

No, but

>Rather than just bulk up, European and Asian trains instead are designed to absorb impacts and avoid collisions in the first place. And they have better safety records.

does.


That bit about "designed to absorb impacts and avoid collisions" sounds like an excuse. Of course we all design for that.

The "better safety records" bit, if true, is a great argument that American trains need to be more able to withstand crashes. We might need to make them more impact-resistant, not less impact-resistant.


> That bit about "designed to absorb impacts and avoid collisions" sounds like an excuse. Of course we all design for that.

No, we don't. Industrial design has only recently begun to take that approach. The old way is "bigger is better," and is the approach taken by, for example, school buses in the USA which have an insane safety record. I believe this year was the first time in over a decade that there was even a single on-board casualty in a US school bus.


You probably want to watch this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPF4fBGNK0U


Making them more crumpleable is intended to do that.




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