March 24, 2006


Rail safety test a smashing success (Patrick O'Driscoll, 3/24/06, USA TODAY)

With a thunderous thunk, a five-coach train of commuter rail cars slammed into a 130-ton locomotive Thursday in a federal government test of measures to curb deaths and injuries in railroad crashes. (Graphic with video: Plans to make trains safer)

Unlike in so many real-life rail disasters, the train and locomotive stayed on the tracks and barely suffered a scratch, dramatically proving the worth of new "crash-energy management" technology designed to save lives by spreading out the force of a collision.

The $5 million experiment delighted test engineers and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who watched in a white hard hat from 100 yards away with dozens of railroad dignitaries.

Although hundreds of tons of iron and steel met head-on, the crash had all the mayhem of a fender-bender in a grocery store parking lot.

The lead coach or "cab car" at the front in "push-pull" mode (a commuter-rail configuration in which the locomotive pulls in one direction and pushes from the back on the return trip), was barely dented in the 31-mph crash. No cars or locomotives derailed. [...]

Mineta said later that the measures — including "push-back" couplers and an "anti-climber" bumper to keep the lead car from riding up and over an oncoming locomotive in a crash — "basically turn once-rigid trains into giant shock absorbers that help protect a train's crew and passengers."

Not only is Mr. Mineta the best Transportation Secretary in the nation's history but one of the superstars of the best cabinet since Washington's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 24, 2006 8:10 AM

No. Reagan's union buster Drew Lewis

Posted by: h-man at March 24, 2006 8:48 AM

Something sounds odd about all this. So the train decelerates from 30 mph to zero in .3 seconds and nobody would have been hurt? Are there seatbelts on the train?

Posted by: Rick T. at March 24, 2006 9:02 AM

Rick T:

The train didn't stop:

"Hell of a thud," Mineta marveled moments after the crash, which sent all the cars and locomotives coasting another quarter of a mile down the track.

It crumpled the front 3 feet of each car in the train, and brought the engine it hit up to speed (or perhaps they were both going 20 mph at that point...)

The key trick here appears to be that if you can keep the train from derailing, it has quite enough energy to flatten or move whatever is in its way without stopping suddenly enough to maim the passengers.

Posted by: Mike Earl at March 24, 2006 10:07 AM

This might be a problem if there's bridge washed out or some other problem which doesn't allow for another quarter mile of track to run out the speed.

I thought we didn't like Mineta because of his lax security at airports.

Posted by: erp at March 24, 2006 10:23 AM


That's the same folks who think the steel tariffs mattered.

Posted by: oj at March 24, 2006 10:36 AM

"The key trick here appears to be that if you can keep the train from derailing, it has quite enough energy to flatten or move whatever is in its way without stopping "

Which is exactly why we should stop wasting money and vehicle lanes putting light rail on surface streets.

How many commuter rail/locomotive crashes are there anyway? Most of the crashes I hear about involve light rail and confused drivers.

Posted by: Jason Johnson at March 24, 2006 11:21 AM

ban drivers

Posted by: oj at March 24, 2006 11:33 AM

Did they sell tickets?

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at March 24, 2006 12:02 PM

We used to do this with the Lionels when we were kids. Never blew them up like Gomez and Pugsley, though.

Posted by: ted welter at March 24, 2006 4:41 PM

Did the freight locomotive have a full load of coal cars behind it?

Posted by: Mikey at March 24, 2006 6:45 PM

This video will be a great hit on the internet.

Posted by: erp at March 24, 2006 7:04 PM

Mikey, Coal cars and one passenger car. The lone occupant of the passenger car, OJ, escaped serious injury, but was transported to the nearest hospital for observation. Results pending.

Posted by: jdkelly at March 24, 2006 7:57 PM