Over the weekend, we visited our niece in Dunn North Carolina. She is working there temporarily at a facility that desperately needs her skills.

While Countess and my niece were engrossed with the Eva Gardner museum in Smithfield NC, I staked out a viewing location on the Washington DC to Miami CSX mainline, that runs right through Dunn. In the short time I was there, two long Northbound freight trains rumbled through.

Little did I know that about 12 hours later, Amtrak train #91 (the Silver Star from DC to Miami) was here, an hour away from slamming into a stationary switching train on a siding at a facility near Columbia SC that unloads cars and trucks from vehicle rail cars for local delivery.

The siding switch was padlocked giving control of the mainline to the switching crew, but the regular systems were down, possibly (ironically) to install Positive Train Control (PTC) on the busy CSX route on Sunday AM.

Either the switching crew forgot to realign the switch (not likely) or the Amtrak crew who were running almost an hour late had their permission to use the mainline expire and failed to contact the CSX dispatcher to extend their “train order”. Since the block signals were disabled, the only way the dispatcher in Jacksonville Florida knows where the Amtrak train is was being told over the radio system.

Amtrak’s immediate statements placing all of the blame on CSX may turn out to be wrong.

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16 Responses to Dunn

  1. briand75 says:

    Do I have this correct?
    CSX – Private corporation – no government funding
    Amtrak – 100% government funded and operated

    If so, it would appear that the blame can be placed based on this fact.

    • Fred Stiening says:

      The way it works is Amtrak signs a contract with each railroad to establish a guaranteed schedule when the trains will go through and freight trains are scheduled to stay out of their way. But if the Amtrak train starts running late and falls outside of their window, the Amtrak train loses its priority status. Once that happens, it cascades and subsequent priority agreements fall, and the train winds up 11 hours late. There is very little “fluff” in the schedule to make up time once it gets late.

      Many railroads were given land grants in order to raise money to build the tracks. Normally those kinds of grants had a clause that the railroad was required to provide passenger service on the route “in perpetuity”. The creation of Amtrak released the railroads from that obligation, so the annoyance of having to schedule around the once a day trains is better than the alternative. The Southern Railroad briefly fought against Amtrak and continued to run its own trains so they retained control of the trains operating on their tracks.

    • CC1s121LrBGT says:

      If you drive your car into a parked car or a tree, it is hard to blame the parked car or tree for the accident.

      To be fair, this train was running on CSX track and my understanding is that CSX controls the switches, so it is a bit like the tree or pedestrian jumping in front of the car. The was plenty of time to stop but you had to know you were on the wrong tracks and that there was a stationary train ahead.

      • Fred Stiening says:

        In railroading, you are not allowed to move without explicit permission which are conveyed by train orders, either paper or nowadays electronic.

        A closer analogy would be if there is a drawbridge in Connecticut that opens each day from Noon to 12:30 to let the sailboats pass through.

        If a boat comes at 1 PM and doesn’t contact the bridge operator to reopen the bridge and the boat hits the bridge, the boat is at fault, not the bridge.

  2. CC1s121LrBGT says:

    As I kid who grew up in the Philadelphia area and knew all the stats of the local sports teams, a childhood dream of seeing the Eagles win the Super Bowl finally came true. … Wondering if we will hear from Countess on that subject. 😉

    • countess robini says:

      I was happy my brother-in-law was able to go to one of the playoff games.
      I remember the ecstatic celebration when the phillies won the world series. This must have been even more intense. Given the reputation of philly sports fans as tough customers (figuratively and literally) i’m glad they got the chance to whoop it up in victory mode.

  3. briand75 says:

    In my experience with Amtrak, the attentiveness of the employees has room for improvement. CSX isn’t perfect, but their failures are more akin to issues with PTC, so I am with Fred on this.

  4. Fred Stiening says:

    The language is still vague, but my theory that the reason the signals were disabled because CSX was installing PTC on the track at this location may turn out to be right. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the “PTC caused Amtrak crash” headline.

  5. Parrott says:

    CSX is still in mourning from losing CEO Hunter Harrison back in December. They are still reeling from closing ‘hump’ yards and through routes. although the Clinchfield is supposed to be reopened between Elk City KY, and Kingsport TN.
    Harrison’s ‘precision train scheduling ‘ is supposed to be the ‘bomb’ to raise stock prices and won praise on wall street. see CP and CN.
    Harrison wanted to bring his ‘soothsayer roadshow’ to NS. They wanted no part of it. NS has never been a fan of deferred track maintenance. Which is basically the scheme.
    You can usually tell a NS track compared to a CSX track with google satellite. NS will be the one with ballast.
    did you hear about the boys that were ‘driving’ ( running) a train from Chattanooga to Evansville, IN. ? Last year the engineer and Conductor were on a manifest north of Nashville, and at a crossing a truck pulled in front of them and they smacked it down the tracks. They were given drug test, no drugs or mary Jayne, passed just fine.
    The Feds pulled the GoPro camera for the front view of the locomotive. Everything normal, plenty of Locomotive horn, gates working good, and lights.
    Then they looked at the ‘CAB-View ‘ camera! Whoa Nellie !
    Most the way from Chattanooga to Nashville they were wearing Virtual Reality glasses/headsets ! a little Gameboy, Tetris, Russian women show. Hilarius !
    whoops ! Dorks. I cannot believe they didn’t know or forgot about the cab view camera.
    Yeah Trains will be computer driven before too long. They are on a Track, the dispatcher knows where they are at ( or are supposed to). Stop, go Pennzoil.
    Computer driven Trucks and cars, To many variables, not feasible. Trains, you can control, you know exactly where they are going to roll. Right now the engineer stands in a tower now in large yards with a remote control controlling the locomotive switching cars.

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