Push-Pull Train in Crash Lacked “Alerter”

The common operation of “push-pull” trains by railroads again came under investigation as it was revealed that the control cab at the front of the Metro-North train that crashed on December 1 did not have an “alerter” system in use.  Such a system monitors the engineer’s actions and, if he or she does nothing for a set period of time, sounds an alarm that the engineer must acknowledge to avoid the brakes going on.  However, although the locomotive for the train may have such a system, it is not necessarily available if the locomotive is pushing the train and the engineer is operating from a cab at the front of a passenger car, according to reporting in The New York Times (Matt Flegenheimer, Ford Fessenden, and Henry Fountain; Dec. 4–5).

Metro-North said that equipment to be purchased in the future will have alerters included.  Since “highway hypnosis” has been discussed as a possible cause of the crash, the absence of an alerter may have been a contributing factor.  The use of push-pull trains has become increasingly popular in recent years, as the trains do not have to be turned at the end of each run.  New Jersey Transit is an especially heavy user of push-pull trains; NJT has opted not to replace aging “multiple-unit” electric trains, which are not push-pull trains.  Instead in many cases NJT chooses to run push-pull trains with their own separate locomotives.  It is not known at this point whether NJT push-pull trains are equipped with alerters.

Read the complete article at:


“Push-Pull” Trains Questioned After Metro-North Wreck

Whether operation of trains by locomotives pushing rather than pulling the cars is totally safe has come into question after the fatal Metro-North train wreck that killed 4 passengers and injured many others on December 1. The train consisted of 8 cars and a dual-mode diesel and electric locomotive, which was pushing the cars from the rear.  According to reporting by Matt Flegenheimer and Patrick McGeehan in The New York Times (Dec. 2), rail-safety experts have at times questioned the performance of this type of train in the event of derailment, speculating that accidents were made more severe by the pushing force from the rear.

Of the commuter railroads in the New York area, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road use push-pull operation sparingly and mostly for trains the operate beyond the limits of electrification.  These lines use all-electric “multiple-unit” equipment, in which there is no separate locomotive, for most services where electrification is available.  The two railroads have been reequipping their electric car fleet in recent years.

In contrast, NJ Transit has chosen not to order new electric cars and increasingly is using locomotive-powered push-pull trains to provide service on all lines, even the electrified ones.  Critics have said that NJT is even stalling on rehabilitating electric cars damaged in Superstorm Sandy.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent of Metro-North, defended the use of push-pull equipment, saying that if the National Transportation Safety Board had any reservations, the railroads wouldn’t be allowed to use push-pull trains.  Metro-North intends to install a “positive train control” system in which computers monitor train speed in advance of restrictions such as the sharp curve where the wreck occurred. The status of positive control system installation on NJ Transit is not clear, but NJT had been a leader in positive train control planning and has let several contracts over the past decade to begin installation of the system on its routes.

Read more about this (limited access) at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/nyregion/severity-of-derailment-revives-safety-concerns-about-pushed-trains.html

Coalition Calls on NJT to Overhaul Electrically-Powered Cars

The Coalition has called on New Jersey Transit to overhaul the 230 electrically-powered Arrow III Electric Multiple-Unit (EMU) cars it owns and to cut back on on its purchase of multilevel cars from Bombardier.  The “Arrows” were manufactured in 1978 and were once the primary cars used on the M&E and other electrified lines at NJT.  Until Hurricane Sandy, they were used mainly on Gladstone trains.  The Coalition believes that overhauling and modernizing the fleet would be a good investment, since they provided faster schedules and greater operational flexibility than locomotive-hauled trains.  The issue is covered extensively in the January-February issue of the Railgram.

M&E, Montclair Restored after Storm

 Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton lines are scheduled to restore service at noon, Saturday, Feb. 9; service had been suspended at 8 p.m. on Friday during  the snowstorm.  NJT attributed this action to the vulnerability of those lines to tree damage, citing the experience of Superstorm Sandy in October (which has resulted in continuing reduction of service on those lines).  It had originally been announced that service would remain suspended through Saturday.

 NJT’s action appears to conflict with weather forecasts that, at the time of the announcement, were actually becoming less severe; once the storm began to abate on Saturday morning, total snowfall reports did not exceed 12″ in the M&E territory, although wind gusts remained a threat on Saturday, especially with tree limbs already weighted with snow.  In general, however, the experience in the M&E territory was no more severe than elsewhere on the NJT system, which remained in operation.  Bus services north of Interstate 195 (that is, all of north Jersey) were also suspended at 8 p.m. on Friday, and restored at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

The short suspension may be attributed to an overabundance of caution, but the selection of the M&E and Boonton lines for suspension suggests that NJT may not have enough equipment to keep all lines running during an emergency.  Weather forecasts were equally severe or even worse for other lines, which were not suspended.  The NJT press release announcing the suspension noted a lack of “system redundancies”, which supports the notion that the system is stretched thin after Hurricane Sandy, and that the suspension of the M&E and Boonton lines was a question of priority-setting rather than prompted by unusual risk to those lines.

Safer Yards for Next Storm?

NJ Transit service as of mid-January continues to be limited since Superstorm Sandy on some lines, mainly those relying on electric service to Hoboken.  Why is the service limited?  NJT has not been particularly forthcoming on this point, but many observers point to limited availability of nonelectric rolling stock, perhaps limited by equipment damaged by flooding during the storm, in yards that proved not to be a safe haven when the water rose.  Now there are reports that NJT is seeking safer havens for its equipment in future storms.  One possibility, according to reporting by Mike Frassinelli in the Star-Leger  (January 18) is a Conrail rail yard in Linden on the Northeast Corridor.  That yard was once used to stage rail cars used by the nearby General Motors plant, which closed in 2005.

According to NJT VP & General Manager of rail operations Kevin O’Connor, “We have nowhere on our system to bring vehicles out of the [Meadows Maintenance Complex], which was flooded.”  O’Connor spoke at a meeting for the New York chapter of the Transportation Research Forum.  O’Connor also declared, “No, I am not going to resign”, in response to a written question from Joseph M. Clift, former LIRR planning director (and Lackawanna Coalition technical director), if he would “accept responsibility for the decisions that led to $100M in [car and locomotive] damage” by offering his resignation.  “It just seems to me that we have a level of damage that suggests decisions that somebody should take responsibility for,” Clift said.  Many would disagree with O’Connor’s assertion that NJT had no safe place to store equipment, pointing out that there are many miles of mainline track that could’ve been used, including the center track on the Morris & Essex line between Newark and Millburn.  Other railroads, such as the Long Island, reportedly used mainline track to store equipment during the storm, and suffered little damage to their fleet.

NJT Bucks Trend; Orders High-Floor Buses

New Jersey Transit has ordered 158 high-floor buses, in contrast to other transit providers, which have switched to low-floor buses.  The low-floor models do not require riders to climb four steps when bording.  Low-floor buses have won praise within the transit industry, because it is easy for riders in wheelchairs, or with other disabilities, to board them.
The approval of the purchase by the NJT Board came at their June meeting, only one month after the agency’s first purchase of low-floor buses for use in Morris County and the Atlantic City area.  Coalition Chair David Peter Alan and Technical Director Joseph M. Clift urged the NJT Board to delay the purchase of more high-floor buses until transit management could evaluate their success in Morris County.  Management and Board members defended and approved the purchase.
Morris & Essex Line rail riders can transfer between trains and local buses at all Morris County stations from Chatham to Dover.

Riders Get Fare Hikes, Consultants Get Big Bucks

From our September/October 2010 Railgram newsletter 
Regular riders on the Morris & Essex Lines are all too aware of the fare increases, along with service reductions, that New Jersey Transit implemented this past spring.  Yet this belt-tightening doesn’t go across the board; the most dramatic illustration is NJT’s insistence on building a new “deep cavern” terminal in Midtown Manhattan, unconnected to New York Penn Station, when a connection from the existing Moynihan/
Penn Station to Grand Central Terminal would be far less expensive and serve riders far better. But spending as though boom times are still here shows up in smaller ways too, such as consulting fees.
As a case in point, NJT recently ordered 100 new multi-level cars, virtually identical to those already in service across the system.  The cost per car is $2.93 million.  In addition, the agency is planning to pay LTK Engineering Services of Ambler, PA of total of $96,761.10 per car to inspect each new car.
Rail advocates are wondering how such a consulting expenditure is justified when the equipment is already a known quantity.  At the NJT Board’s July 14 meeting, advocate Jack May, who was instrumental in getting weekend service to Montclair restored last fall, asked NJT Executive Director James Weinstein if he planned to hire a high-priced consultant each time he bought a new automobile.  NJT management defended the LTK contract but did not explain why it was necessary.
At that same meeting, Lackawanna Coalition Chair David Peter Alan pointed out that the LTK contract—worth at least $9.2 million and possibly as much as $9.7 million—cost more than the expected revenue from charging riders higher fares. NJT could have kept peak-hour fare hikes in check and sent engineers who were already on the payroll to inspect the new multi-level cars.
The agency could have also cut back slightly on another large equipment order instead of passing the costs on to riders. NJT’s board in July also voted to order 10 more dual-mode locomotives, in addition to the 126 it already has on order, at a cost of nearly $8 million per unit. Had that order of 10 locomotives been reduced to 9, the steep off-peak fare increases could have been avoided.
“It is not a good management practice for transit providers, or any other business in the public or private sector, to waste money,” Alan says. “It is especially unfair to force transit riders to pay out of pocket for managerial extravagance.”