15 comments to “For Big Railroads, a Carload of Whistleblower Complaints”

  1. Alan Kandel

    John, if you happen to see this comment, I am curious about how it is that, if you were “warned in 1998 and 1999 about a couple situations at that locations showing false indications” (and I’m not going to ask by whom you were warned for reasons not too difficult to imagine), what was done in response?

    Were there procedures followed to test for signal integrity to see if it could be established if, in fact, false indications (by false indications I presume you mean “false clear” indications) were occurring? Also, if such was the case, these “false indications” I assume needed to be reported to the Federal Railroad Administration or another similar regulating body. Were they? It sounds suspect and serious enough to warrant reporting.

    Furthermore, it seems to me that the information you shared here could have been instrumental in the way the National Transportation Safety Board conducted its investigation and in terms of it rendering its decision regarding the cause or causes of this collision.

  2. John Faggot

    That signal at CP Topanga has always been a problem for us SP-UP Engineers. I was warned in 1998 and 1999 about a couple situations at that locations showing false indications.

  3. janet bowie

    Mr.SZABO please read my comment on all the SITTING empty railcars and rail-tanks the homeless now occupy..the ones that BNSF are in such a hurry to move..the ones last inspected 4 years ago so, therefor cannot move until inspection;due 2022 !

  4. janet bowie

    FYI..BNSF RRD has20? or more empty?railcars..mostly those that obviosly transported hazardous chemicals..,highly flamable..that are just sitting on sidebar(?)like tracks because their last inspection(only done every TEN YEARS !!) was in 2012. Well,here in tacoma,wa..especially at these cars location..have a bad problem with the homeless.They can no longer be by the puyallup river and now flank the emerald queen casino off portland ave..camping off the busy streets..AND using some of the open cargo railcars that are connected to these volitail cars…in laman..CAMPING..as in campfires..smoking..needles and more flame..with me ? I know one thing..ya should’t drive around with an almost empty gas can..a smoker in the summer or not ! still with me ? the containers all around this area where construction of new off/onramps..new turnlanes etc..entering and exiting the freeway..to and from emerald queen casino..are full of (propane?gas?)can you sing me a “KUMB-EYE-YA ma’ lord?”sooo,uhh..the railcars sit until due for inspection..in 2022 ? !!can we do a few 20?30?housecall type inspections so they can getta move on already?it wont be long if they havent already..thought of tapping into a fuel source rather than try to keep gathering wood..with it getting colder..i fear they may do this to maybe stay warm..a junky will gladly blowup all of the cars to keep all of them warm,ok? PS don’t bother speaking with the queen of railcar data MsWyatt..she’ll lie !

  5. janet bowie

    I suffered a severe head injury june 2013 when, during major construction,a cable snapped on the deployment of BNSF RRDS pedestrian safety gate..allowing it to free-fall with its full weight on top of my head..got myself to good sam er just a few blocks away.after 3 years of assigning new claims reps to keep me at step one,or totaly ignoring me finally ms wyatt(claims dept manager) finally comes up with rail car IDs that never existed i found out after myself..sounder..amtrak..FRA all completed researching the ID she says belonged top the train that activation all safety equipment to begin with. my claim explained how the contracted out crew set off..like..phantom train warnings from heavy track vehicles..etc.mswyatt decided..and rudely explained..how i negligently decided to race the train and timed the gate wrong (im almost 60 yrs old and was crossing tracks to see my chiropractor from earlier car crash..could barely walk..let alone run.I guess i will find out appeal procedures and maybe look into civil recovery since she ran out small claims statutes with her constant DIS-information.

  6. Alan Kandel

    Hi Barbara,

    That “the engineer and the conductor were not speaking and nothing was called out according to the passengers in cars two and three,” well, this is indeed very sad commentary and is cause for serious concern.

    As a former railroad signalman, I am fully aware that there are mandatory rules that must be followed by employees in carrying out job-related duties/functions, those in operations especially. By their actions – or maybe more accurately, a lack thereof – has the appearance that both engineer and conductor were either derelict or somewhat derelict in carrying out their duties while at the Chatsworth station, if not before.

    On a related matter, I question the way the investigation of the incident of Sept. 12, 2008 was conducted. Contradictions abound: There were conflicting reports regarding signal light color; there were contradictions regarding relayed eyewitness testimony to that effect and contradictions regarding the time at which engineer Sanchez via his wireless device received the last text-message communication from the person identified in the report as Person A (Case in point: in one part of the report, it was stated that the last text message sent from Person A’s wireless device was received on engineer Sanchez’s wireless device at 4:20:57 p.m. (page 35 of the report) and in another part of the report, it was stated that the last text message sent from Person A’s wireless device.was received on Sanchez’s wireless device at 4:21:03 p.m. (page 7 of the report) – this information based on secured Verizon Wireless records. The two times conflict. It cannot be both).

    Not ony this but called into question is the way in which post-accident signal testing was conducted.

    Here is what I mean: On footnote 46 on page 39 of the report reads: “On the day of the accident, the dispatcher had stacked the route for the westbound movement; on the day of the testing, the westbound route requests were not stacked.”

    This obviously begs the question: Why not carry out the stacking procedure on the day of the testing, the same way it was done the day of the accident? By virtue of this, one is left wondering why the “stacked” vs. “non-stacked” route requests.

    At best, it’s a conundrum. At worst, who knows?! If you do not care to weigh in further on this, I would understand.

  7. Barbara Kloster

    Hi Alan,
    One thing I forgot to mention was that the
    engineer and the conductor were not speaking
    and nothing was called out according to the passengers
    in cars two and three. I guess we are kicking a dead
    horse because I will never change the way I feel.

  8. Alan Kandel

    Hi Barbara. If you are saying what I think you are – that there exists the possibility that the signal governing movement of the Metrolink passenger train exiting the Chatsworth Station that day (in this case the westbound signal controlling the mainline – the top-most signal head at Control Point Topanga) was displaying a green light thereby indicating a clear (unoccupied) track beyond that control point, then that practically changes everything if that was indeed the case.

    Finding 5 from the National Transportation Safety Board’s Railroad Accident Report RAR-10/01 “Collision of Metrolink Train 111 With Union Pacific Train LOF65-12 Chatsworth, California September 12, 2008” clearly states: “Physical evidence, documentary and recorded data, and post-accident signal examination and testing confirm that the westbound signal at Control Point Topanga was displaying a red aspect at the time Metrolink train 111 departed Chatsworth station and as it approached and passed Control Point Topanga, and had the engineer complied with the signal indication, the accident would not have occurred” (page 65).

    My assessment: From the section of the report: “Review of Recorded Signal Data” (page 25), below is what is presented.

    “Downloaded data from Digicon event logs at the Metrolink dispatching center and signal event recorders in the field indicate that, at the time of the accident, the westbound signal at CP Topanga was displaying a red aspect (stop indication) and the dispatcher’s stacked request to clear this signal was waiting in the queue in the Digicon dispatching system” (page 25).

    Moreover, “The Metrolink dispatch center aligned the route as it was at the time of the accident and investigators used rolling shunts to simulate the movements of Metrolink train 111 and the Leesdale Local” (page 39).

    Firstly, what did the “Digicon event logs at the Metrolink dispatching center and signal event recorders in the field” show the signal aspects to be for the eastbound and westbound CP Topanga signals (both A and B heads – “A” being the signal head corresponding to the mainline track and “B” being the signal head corresponding to the siding track) from the time “Metrolink train 111 departed Chatsworth station and as it approached Control Point Topanga” before actually passing it?

    Why is this information important? Knowing what the signal aspect states (i.e., the displayed colors) of the aforementioned signals were from the time Metrolink train 111 departed the station to the time just prior to it passing the westbound CP Topanga signal is a critical piece of information, especially considering there was eyewitness testimony asserting the mainline signal was green (said signal was observed to be green by four onsite eyewitnesses – the conductor included) as the train “pulled out of the station.”

    From the report, definitively known are the signal aspects of eastbound intermediate signal 4426 immediately prior to this signal being passed by UP train LOF65-12. The GRS (General Railway Signal) sentinel signals of intermediate signal 4426 were displaying yellow-over-yellow aspects, indicating: “approach diverging.” The presumption is based on information revealed in the report, due to signals being approach lit, if there were no other trains in the circuit, signal aspects at Control Point Topanga would have been deactivated (off) and would not have activated (turned on) prior to train LOF65-12 passing intermediate signal 4426 which is situated between CP Davis and CP Topanga. However, once approaching westbound train 111 entered the block of track west of intermediate signal 4451 (situated between CP Bernson and CP Topanga), the presumption is corresponding signal aspects at CP Topanga would have been activated (lit). Prior to Metrolink train 111 passing intermediate signal 4451 and prior to Union Pacific train LOF65-12 passing intermediate signal 4426, the presumption is signals at CP Topanga would have been deactivated (unlit). Incidentally, the two eastbound signal heads are clearly visible in Figure 8 of the report on page 26 in the left-center of the photo to the left of the mainline track.

    During signal testing, “With the eastbound signal at Topanga displaying clear, investigators applied battery power to the green signal lamp of the westbound signal” (page 39). But remember, there are two signal heads for the westbound signal. So, the presumption is, it is the A head green signal lamp that is being referred to here.

    “As an additional test, investigators had the CP Topanga switch aligned for eastbound movement into the siding and locked. They then initiated a request to clear the Topanga westbound signal.” (Here again, the presumption is, it is the signal lamp in the westbound Topanga A signal head that is being referred to here). “This test was performed once with the eastbound signal displaying clear and again with the signal displaying stop” (page 40).(Since I could find no mention of which eastbound Topanga signal head – A or B – is being referred to here, the presumption is that the reference is being made to signal head B since this is the signal head associated with the siding track and also taking into consideration the “CP Topanga switch” was “aligned for eastbound movement into the siding”).

    Secondly, I could find no mention of the date signal testing was conducted. From this, there is no way of knowing if said signal testing for electrical integrity, was conducted before or after onsite eyewitness testimony regarding the color of the westbound CP Topanga mainline signal was gathered by NTSB investigators.

    Lastly, used in the context it is used, what does “at the time of the accident” mean? Does this mean, from “the time Metrolink train 111 departed Chatsworth Station and as it approached and passed Control Point Topanga” up to and including the point at which impact occurred? I feel the clause “at the time of the accident” needs to be clarified.

    My summation: It was clearly stated in Finding 5 that the westbound Control Point Topanga signal “was displaying a red aspect at the time Metrolink train 111 departed Chatsworth station and as it approached and passed Control Point Topanga.”

    From the information presented above, what is decisive according to the NTSB in its RAR-10/01 report from page 25 is, “at the time of the accident, the westbound signal at CP Topanga was displaying a red aspect (stop indication) and the dispatcher’s stacked request to clear the signal was waiting in the queue in the Digicon dispatching system.”

    Furthermore, in presenting what the data were on the signal aspect states for the four signal aspects (two for eastbound and two for westbound) “at the time of the accident,” it is what it is. Stated this way, in my opinion, nothing can be conclusively proved in terms of either trying to confirm or refute said eyewitness testimony regarding the color of the westbound CP Topanga signal aspect in question (that which was displayed on the A head) between the time Metrolink train 111 was stopped at the Chatworth Station up to its approach of the westbound signal mast but not passing it. For the record, Metrolink train 111 of September 12, 2008 passed the westbound CP Topanga signal mast at 4:21:56 p.m. according to information in the NTSB report.

    Based on the information presented, I don’t see how it can be concluded definitively what the four distinct signal aspects at CP Topanga were (in both the A and B signal heads for both the westbound and eastbound signals), prior to Metrolink train 111 passing the CP Topanga signal mast. In my opinion, what is or has been definitively concluded is the color of the mainline westbound CP Topanga signal aspect but only “at the time of the accident,” a clause, which, in my opinion, is vague and needs to be clarified. “At the time of the accident” is presumed to mean at the “moment of impact” and at the moment of impact, the presumption is the four signal aspects would be displaying “red” aspects.

    I have already decided for myself what I believe happened. It is presumed that that conductor that day would also know.

  9. Barbara Kloster

    Here is my point of view Alan. I have always felt that the Conductor should share the blame but he didn’t. I still feel in my heart that Sanchez ran the light whether it was red or green because all he could think about was who he texted and their plans for the evening . We could put the blame on at least 20 but that wouldn’t bring back the dead or fix the injured, like new. My point of view is my own but I am sure they are shared by many. Good talking to you. By the way, the Conductor broke his leg and medical bills were paid.
    I am not sure but I think Veolia took care of it. FYI, Some of our Lawyers are now working for Veolia. What a GOOD OLD BOYS CLUB THEY HAVE.

  10. Alan Kandel

    Barbara, I am in partial agreement that texting contributed to the tragic collision of the two trains that fateful Sept. 12, 2008 day in Chatsworth, California.

    I seem to recall that the conductor aboard the passenger train communicated to engineer Robert Sanchez in the locomotive cab a “high ball” signal (“clear track ahead” in railroad parlance) prior to the train departing Chatsworth station. This action presupposes that the conductor in question not only was able to see the approximately 1-mile distant Control Point Topanga signal governing said train’s movement but that the signal aspect itself was displaying green. If this was in fact the case, this would align with the testimony given by the 3 eyewitnesses present (the two train buffs and one security guard) and so-documented in the L.A. Times article I mentioned in my earlier post.

    The bigger question then becomes: If the signal in question was red as suggested, then why would the aforementioned conductor have communicated to engineer Sanchez that the control point signal was, in effect, green and that it was okay for said passenger train to proceed out of the station? If this was, in fact, what had happened, then by that action, doesn’t the conductor at least bear some responsibility in this collision as well?

    I truly believe that there were numerous factors that contributed to this event occurring and in my heart of hearts to pin the blame entirely on Robert Sanchez is indeed unfair.

  11. Barbara Kloster

    Good to hear your opinions on false greens at the stations..The 2008 crash was caused by the engineer texting so he ran thru whatever light there was. false or positive. The Conductor had reported him several times to Veola but never to OSHA. The Conductor was considered a whistle blower, was not fired, kept his job, even tho knowing what he did know, had the authority to stop the train while it was stopped at the station until a new engineer could be brought in.
    Feel like I’m kicking a dead horse for all the good what opinions I have, don’t count. Good hearing from you Alan.

  12. Alan Kandel

    I have since located the Los Angeles Times article referred to in my previous comment. The title is: “Witnesses say light was green just before Metrolink train crashed,” an Oct. 4, 2008 article written by Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Rich Connell and Robert J. Lopez. The locomotive engineer-turned-railroad consultant mentioned in the referenced article is William Keppen who commented that in his 13-year stint as a train engineer, he observed false clear signals on two different occasions but did not move his train past the signal displaying the false green signals fully understanding that on the tracks ahead of him was another train.

    Story here: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-traincrash4-2008oct04-story.html

  13. Alan Kandel

    Great article, for sure. But, more importantly, discussion of a subject in the media that is not only warranted but, in fact, long overdue.

    Personally, I would like to see a related article dealing with the signal issue. There is an important story here, too, you know. I witnessed something similar to the signal color changes as described above, in that the signal color changes I observed, flipped back and forth from red to green to red to green repeatedly before finally displaying “green” just before an eastbound train movement this signal was governing arrived. The location was on the Southern Pacific railroad just east of the town of Truckee, California on the Donner Pass line. I was puzzled.

    And, relatedly, a Los Angeles Times news article in which Molly Hennessy-Fiske who was one of three reporters in all (the two other reporters names I cannot recall), reported in this article in question (incidentally, released shortly after the deadly head-on train collision in Chatsworth, California on Sept. 12, 2008), was mention of a railroad consultant from Annapolis, Maryland (as I remember it) who, when, as a former locomotive engineer, recounted two separate incidents in which he witnessed “false green” signal aspect displays. I also seem to remember reading that this particular consultant as former locomotive engineer expressing in the article in question that he had had the presence of mind not to move his train forward due to the track ahead of his train being occupied by another train traveling toward his train, the presumption being, had he moved his train past this “false green” signal onto the so-referenced occupied track, disastrous consequences no doubt would have resulted.

    Information in the Times story as to why the false clear signal aspects (again, there were 2 instances), was lacking, as were details about what was done to remedy the situation or what was done to see that the presence of “false-clear” signal displays were not repeated.

    This, notwithstanding, signal malfunctions do happen and can present a definite danger when they do.

    I hope you will consider my suggestion.

  14. Raymond Baker

    I was a terminal trainmaster for CSX in the Cumberland, Md. Hump Terminal for CSX. When I reported that numerous derailments were being covered up by Terminal Management to Tony Ingram, then the Chief Transportation Officer, I was fired from my position. I had Conductors seniority & now am a Locomotive Engineer in Philadelphia, Pa.

  15. Mac English

    “The culture and the workplace fear of reporting injuries or safety problems hasn’t changed at BNSF here on the Chicago Division either”…

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