The Hanford Derailment Wouldn’t Have Happened With HSR

Oct 4th, 2012 | Posted by

On Monday a semi rammed a southbound San Joaquins train near Hanford, causing several cars to derail. Nobody was killed, thankfully, but nearly two dozen people were injured.

According to investigators, the driver of the truck can’t explain why he crashed into the train. But that hasn’t stopped some politicians from grandstanding.

Kings County Supervisor Richard Valle told a local TV station that this crash was cause for concern when it came to high speed rail:

Valle explained, “The fear is you take this same accident and you insert a high speed rail train at 220 mph and you add that – with high speed rail train do we walk away with zero deaths and low injuries like we did yesterday?”

No, Richard, with HSR you don’t have this same accident at all. HSR will be fully grade separated. No trucks will cross the tracks. Nor will any car, any bus, any tractor, any human, any animal. The tracks will go over or under roads that cross its path. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why a few of your constituents don’t want to this project, because it will be an entirely closed ROW and that will have an impact on the ability to cross it easily.

His comments are a cheap shot that don’t address the actual unsafe situation on those roads and don’t do anything to enlighten the discussion about how to move people and goods around Kings County safely and quickly.

  1. morris brown
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 08:16

    Well, with the current plan to use existing tracks (blended plan) on the “bookends”, for HSR, this kind of accident could well happen since there is currently no plan to grade separate much of that route.

    Peter Reply:

    They won’t be going 220 mph on the bookends. Not to mention the fact that there aren’t many “exempt” ag drivers who don’t know how to drive their rigs on the Peninsula or in Los Angeles. Also, what grade crossing on the Peninsula or in LA has a speed limit of 55 mph?

    J. Wong Reply:

    “grade separate much”? According to Clem’s blog the Peninsula is “mostly grade-separated”, so “much” is clearly false.

    John Burrows Reply:

    From Broadway in Burlingame to Charleston Rd in Palo Alto, I counted 31 at grade Caltrain crossings. Whether or not The Peninsula is “mostly grade separated”, 31 at grade crossings concentrated over less than half of the Caltrain route from San Francisco to San Jose is a lot of grade crossings.

    Ten plus years from now, if 4 or more high speed trains go through here at 110 mph every hour and if 100 plus electrified Caltrains pass through every day at increased speeds, there are going to be some issues.

    Don’t know what upgrades might take place along this section by the time high speed trains start running—What are the chances that any of the high traffic crossings like Broadway in Burlingame might be grade separated by then? And would some of the less traveled streets be closed off?

    John Burrows Reply:

    Correction—15 years from now if all goes well. And I discovered that Clem did a “reasonably good reading of the tea leaves” in his blog on April 7 in describing what The Peninsula may in for over the next 15 plus years.

    joe Reply:

    Safer rail crossings and better east-west corridors throughout Palo Alto should rank among the city’s highest transportation priorities, the Planning and Transportation Commission concluded Wednesday night, May 30, when it voted to endorse a new vision document for the Caltrain corridor.

    Rail crossings, in fact, emerged as the city’s top priority at a March 29 community meeting, which brought about 50 residents to the Lucie Stern Community Center. When asked to rate their priorities, the vast majority called for better rail crossings, particularly at the Charleston Road and Meadow Drive (dozens also expressed support for an improved overcrossing at University Avenue and El Camino Real).

    “It did not simply look at train tracks, but it looked at the city from Alma Street to El Camino, both sides, and in doing so, it gave the city an opportunity to examine what has been sort of put together haphazardly over the years,” Wasserman said. “If high-speed rail has done any good so far in this process, it’s that it has called attention to this major asset in the community — which is also a major obstacle.”

    missiondweller Reply:

    Agreed. This is why “shortcuts” on the SF Peninsula are misguided or just plain stupid.

    Running HSR or even the “Baby Bullet” at street level is stupid.

    Clem Reply:

    At lower speeds a crash such as this one would be no problem. As you might recall, Morris.

  2. morris brown
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 08:20

    CEQA lawsuits in the central valley file motion to halt rail work.

    Lawsuits seek injunction to halt rail work


    I note that today’s Authority board meeting is mostly closed session regarding various lawsuits that have been filed.

    Peter Reply:

    The fact that the “news” is repeating week-old information doesn’t make it “news-worthy” or “new”. When did the “news” lose track of the meaning of the first three letters of the word “news”?

    Peter Reply:

    Also, in case you haven’t noticed, there is always a closed session pertaining to litigation. Why is this important?

    J. Wong Reply:

    To drum up a little drama and to improve the perception of his case on this board: “Oo, must be serious. The board is really worried.”

  3. James M. in Irvine
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 08:32

    I sent an email to Mr. Valle, maybe the point will get across about the safety of HSR.

    Jim M

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    A day and a half later, I have not had a reply to my e-mail, perhaps I never will.

    Jim M.

  4. Andy M
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 09:10

    OMG, a traditional train has a crossing incident, therefore HSR is unsafe.

    Let’s close the Interstate system because Model Ts are also unsafe.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    When the Interstate system opened, US road fatalities doubled. There was no change in fatality rate per VMT (but freeways are safer than roads with grade crossings, right?…), but VMT doubled.

    And even US mainline rail operations today are 1.5 orders of magnitude safer for their passengers today than the US road network. And HSR is much safer than that.

  5. Richard Mlynarik
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 11:20

    You know, it’s not necessary to write a completely irrelevant article every day, no matter how unrelated to HSR or anything else it might be (LA Carmageddon! Random Amtrak junk! More Amtrak junk! CBOSS awesome!)

    Take a break. Have a drink. Nobody’s paying you by the page visit.

    Winston Reply:

    This article seems pretty relevant given that a Kern County Politician is claiming that HSR will be dangerous compared to current Amtrak operations.

    Joey Reply:

    If you’re writing something every time a politician says something stupid you might as well make it you full time job.

  6. nick uk
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 11:59

    how is a news story where hsr is specifically mentioned somehow not related to hsr ? it is richard valle that has made the entirely spurious and inaccurate connection with this unfortunate accident which robert has rightly refuted

  7. nick uk
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 12:01

    and if you believe the story is irrelevant you are not under any compulsion to reply. touche

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    That irony had escaped me! Thanks, NICK UK.

  8. Brandon from San Diego
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 17:53

    No one wants to cheer for an accident, but this will provide much more support for the project than a lot of things. The Kern County BOS only showed his ignorance. The response will show the valuable benefit of grade separations.

    Regarding the blended proposals…. no trains would be traveling 220mph in such segments.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Picture how SMART’s Bugatti doodlebugs will fare in a collision with a big rig at 80mph.

    SMART’s insistence on such high speeds on an 1870 route with 2012 auto traffic stems from its rejection of true electric light rail. San Diego or Sac light rail speeds(around 55mph)are much more realistic and proper for the NorthBay. But the insiders and NWP nostalgics insist on taxpayer subsidized freight and spurn true rapid transit.

    Trackwork in Petaluma is proceeding apace but there is some more environmental brouhaha in Marin over the clapper rail. Rebuilding the Marin trackage stands as the most important accomplishment of SMART. GGT has always wanted to pave the ROW.

  9. Woody
    Oct 4th, 2012 at 19:56

    Am I off topic here to ask if anyone else favors making seat belts available for Amtrak and HSR passengers who want to use them? Not requiring them, but having them available at the seats.

    Oh, I know it would be too, too much to speak of installing air bags on trains; I just know that airbags were ‘not invented here’.

    Amtrak always refers to its passengers involved in crashes like this one as incurring “minor injuries” without defining “minor”. (Like the NYPD definition of a car-bike crash as being not worth investigating if the cyclist is not dead at the scene.) Broken teeth and bone fractures, bloody cuts leaving lifelong scars, concussions and broken hips, we don’t know what injuries are “minor” on Amtrak — and potentially avoidable by wearing seat belts.

    Peter Reply:

    Nothing more useless than seatbelts you are not required to wear, because no one would wear them. Unlike in a car, you are not constantly moments away from death, and unlike on an airliner, there are essentially no highly dangerous moments (take-off and landing) or turbulence that would require seatbelts.

    The infinitesimally small number of passengers injured or killed on trains combined with the very low number of accidents really does make seatbelts and airbags overkill.

    Woody Reply:

    Obviously you wouldn’t use a seat belt. I would, but because I am not like you, I guess I am a nobody.

    But then, I always wore a seat belt even before it became required by law to do so.

    Still, I just don’t see how offering seat belt, retracted but available for anyone who has the habit or the desire, makes a problem for those who don’t want them. What again is your problem with *my* seat belt?

    I know the number of passengers killed on trains is small. Do you know the number injured? In this one accident, it was 0 killed, more than 20 inured. That suggests the yearly number of injuries on trains could be at least 20 times larger than the fatalities. Not all those would seem ‘minor’ to those who suffered the injuries.

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Would lap belts lead to more injuries than bracing yourself with what’s around you? The reason cars shifted to shoulder harnesses is the injuries sustained with just lap belts, lots of abdomial injuries leading to internal bleeding and death. I would rather not use a lap belt.

    Jim M

    Peter Reply:

    Dude, I’m one of those very few who actually keeps his seatbelt buckled on an airplane while the plane is taxiing to the gate. Or while the plane is in smooth cruise. Or who walks down the aisle in an airplane with one hand above my head. That’s because as a pilot myself I’m aware of the risks involved. Turbulence can happen at any moment, as can an emergency stop while taxiing.

    And in a car? You’d be nuts to drive in a car without a seatbelt. That’s one of the most dangerous environments you can ever be in. Kind of crazy that we do it every day.

    Compare the risks. They don’t stack up.

    Woody Reply:

    Wearing a seat belt should be a habit, not a decision. It’s a good habit in a car, and on an airplane, and in a bus (I believe required by law now, at least in some states). So why not allow passengers to keep the habit when they ride a train?

    Maybe some of us feel so uncomfortable “breaking” the habit that is makes the train ride a less pleasant experience.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Wear a helmet.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s actually a terrible habit in a car. When you drive without a seat belt, you endanger yourself. When you drive with one, you endanger everyone else on the road by driving more aggressively.

    Woody Reply:

    Srsly, Alon? I don’t think that I drive more aggressively when, or because, I am wearing a seat belt. I guess others could do so, but haven’t driving deaths declined since seat belts/shoulder harnesses became mandatory? Can you give a site for your assertion?

    You could probably also offer info on the questions that I posted below that didn’t get any reply:

    When the Federal Office of Railroad Safety test crashes their coach full of dummies to test the safety of a railcar, do the dummies have seat belts? Are there any airbags? So does the absence of seat belts/shoulder harnesses and airbags result in more “injuries” to the dummies involved in these crashes? Does this result support the heavy-weight, cost-more-than-seat-belts-and-airbags specs that make American passenger railcars “like tanks”?

    Peter Reply:

    Sounds like someone is taking a few notes out of Sheldon Cooper’s book:

    Sheldon: How am I going to get to work?

    Leonard: Take the bus.

    Sheldon: Oh, I can’t take the bus anymore. They don’t have seatbelts, and they won’t let you lash yourself to the seat with bungee cords.

    Leonard: You tried to lash yourself to the seat with bungee cords?

    Sheldon: I didn’t try; I succeeded. For some reason, it alarmed the other passengers and I was asked to de-bus.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    but haven’t driving deaths declined since seat belts/shoulder harnesses became mandatory? Can you give a site for your assertion?

    Driving deaths have been on a constant trend of decline since the Model T days. Seatbelts didn’t bend that curve. See for example this, or in general everything by John Adams.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    What about non-fatal severe injuries, such as blindness thanks to going headfirst through windshield?

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I could have been, in a car I always wear a seatbelt. I feel very uncomfortable if I don’t. With airplanes, yes, turbulance can happen any time, so I understand the idea of a seatbelt there. But on this train, it seems like things happened at a slower rate, so perhaps someone riding it out can more roll with the punches. I don’t know how it would be, I am lucky enough to not have been through a derailment, nor do I want to go through one.


    Woody Reply:

    Later press reports said 40 people in this accident went to the hospital for treatment. Sure, 40 is part of an infinitesimally small number, but each such injury seems very large to the victim.

    If no one here wants seat belts or shoulder harnesses, does anybody here want to do something else to reduce the number of Amtrak’s hospital-treatable injuries?

    And so what do you suggest doing about the problem?

    Jon Reply:

    How about preventing the accident happening in the first place through grade separation, positive train control, and intrusion detection?

    Donk Reply:

    They should also make sure the seat cushions double as floatation devices…ya never know…

    neville snark Reply:

    And oxygen masks!

    swing hanger Reply:

    On a more serious note, once HSR is up and running, many passengers will have to be educated that they should leave their seats and make for the vestibules with their luggage before the train stops at their destination station, to facilitate fast detraining/boarding. Otherwise they may still be in their seats when the doors open.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Is this a real problem in California? In the Northeast people get out of trains pretty quickly, even Amtrak trains with narrow, car-end doors. At the major and semi-major stations the timetable schedules long dwells, but at Providence, where it doesn’t, doors stay open for about 90 seconds in normal operations, and less than 60 seconds when the train is late.

    swing hanger Reply:

    I suppose people in the NE do so because they are used to riding trains. With level boarding and automatic doors, you want to realize the benefits of such, by reducing dwell times. Inexperienced riders may have the airline mentality of leaving their seats after the vehicle has stopped.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    True. I wonder what the projection is for the percentage of CAHSR riders who ride regularly and will learn quickly and the percentage of riders who are occasional.

    Amtrak deals with this with announcements. “In a few moments we’re coming up on PROVIDENCE! PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND! Please gather up your belongings and make your way to the exit.”

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    A lot of people here think traditional American railroading is too old fashioned, but there are certain touches I like. One of them was a conductor on the commuter rail service here, who would walk through the train making the station announcements. What made it interesting was that he “sang” his station calls, such as “Harpers Ferry, Har-arpers Ferry, next stop is Har-ar-arpers Ferry.” The next stop on that line is Brunswick, Maryland, which didn’t get the musical treatment but did get a tribute to the division point railroad yard there–“Brunswick, Brunswick, the railroad capital of the world, Brunswick!” This was for a town with a population of 5,280 in the 2010 census.,_Maryland

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Sadly, that conductor would pass away some years later, after a battle with cancer.

    As things used to be in the steam era:

    jimsf Reply:

    It will be a real problem with the exception of the sf stop and especially in the valley, where approximately 100 percent of people will miss the train they came for and have to take the next one.

    jimsf Reply:

    Any of those who do make their train will get left behind at the following stop when they interpret the “there are no smoking stops on this train do not off board unless it is your destination” announcement to mean “hop off, light up, and wander away to look for food, bathrooms or god knows what else”

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Part of my enjoyment of riding a train is moving through the cars while the train is stopping! It’s like an “A” or “B” ticket trying to keep your balance while moving in many direction.

    Jim M.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    To really give the airline experience, CHSRA could provide TSA security screening at the stations.

    Oh wait….

    Woody Reply:

    I just don’t see how offering seat belt, retracted but available for anyone who has the habit or the desire, makes a problem for those who don’t want them.

    What again is your problem with *my* seat belt?

    Neville Snark Reply:

    They cost money. No trains in Yoorp have them.

    Peter Reply:

    Does any train have them?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Another opportunity for America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals to lead the way! Just like CBO$$ and 2100000 pounds (pounds!!) of compression strength and super-secret need-to-know national security classified platform assignments.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Just bizarre with the NJT case. Talk about a railway with no sense of customer service. Where I live, you know which platforms your train will arrive months or even years beforehand, as the platforms are designated either up/down in direction, by type of train/line, and/or published beforehand when the platforms are used by different trains.

    Woody Reply:

    Trains are safer in Yoorp, no? Has any train operator ever asked the customers if they would *want* to wear a seat belt?

    And how much they do cost? My guess is about $87.68 when bought in industrial quantities. But I’m not in industry, so I don’t know.

    Follow-up questions: When the Federal Office of Railroad Safety test crashes their coach full of dummies to test the safety of a railcar, do the dummies have seat belts? Are there any airbags? So does the absence of seat belts and airbags result in more “injuries” to the dummies involved in these crashes? Does this result support the heavy-weight, cost-more-than-seat-belts-and-airbags specs that make American passenger railcars “like tanks”?

  10. Derp
    Oct 6th, 2012 at 12:17

    If we let risks stand in our way of every innovation, We would still be striking 2 rocks together to warm up dinner. Besides, many other countries have HSR, using “faster and more frequency is more dangerous”, seems like a poor argument against HSR. California is about innovation. If you don’t like it, you can get in your horse and buggy, or whatever form a transportation you deem safe and find a new home.

  11. jimsf
    Oct 7th, 2012 at 08:35

    Or how bout building a railroad where trains don’t crash. I mean for real, in the history of high speed rail operations worldwide, how many injury crashes have there been in total? only a handful? Ive never heard of one in france or spain or netherlands, Ive heard of the one in germany, the recent one in china. never heard of one in japan or taiwan, or italy. I wonder if hsr travel isnt safer than even airline travel.

    Peter Reply:


    I wonder if hsr travel isnt safer than even airline travel.


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