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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Train wreck

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“Train wreck” is a term used to describe a large scale accident that happens slowly and is often times foreseeable. The major reason is because there is typically one driving car and a lot of mass being pulled behind it. Also, the train lacks the ability to function off its rails. One small problem can cause a massive derailment. The most recent wrecks in national media have been gaining publicity from their massive scale and human error.

Are they safe?
Across the US, using recent data, trains are involved in accidents at a rate of about one train wreck every three days. The train is not always at fault, but due to the cargo and potential for disaster when wrecks do happen they usually have a large impact and often times involve hazardous materials.
Google began a hard push to make driverless cars. With over 1.7 million miles and only 11 minor accidents(<1 per 100,000 miles!) attributed to human drivers, Google has had great success showing the viability of a system that is able to react to constantly changing variables. (S)

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Why dont we have automated trains?
Trains have fewer variables and most speeds are dictated by location and not conditions. It seems that an automated train system would be easier to implement than a driverless car system. Automated trains have existed since 1961 on varying levels of automation but most are metro or subway systems. The automation ranges from “Grade of Automation 4 (GoA4) system like the Copenhagen Metro trains are capable of operating automatically at all times, including door closing, obstacle detection and emergency situations.” to “Grade of Automation 2 (GoA2) system with ATO like London Underground Victoria line, trains run automatically from station to station but a driver is in the cab, with responsibility for door closing, obstacle detection on the track in front of the train and handling of emergency situations.” (S)

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The light at the end of the tunnel
The government has become involved with Positive Train Control (PTC). PTC is a part of RISA Act of 2008 and was signed into law by Pres. Bush. RISA has a deadline of December 2015 and even offers grants of $50M a year for upgrades to the specified requirements. PTC was not active on the portion of the track where the gay activist conductor(Brandon Bostian) was running the train at twice the posted speed that killed 8 and injured over 200. Many experts say PTC could have prevented the derailment. (S)
The conductor said he doesn't remember the incident prior to hitting the brake seconds before the crash. You usually don't remember what goes on around you while you are asleep. But the interwebs remember what you say 4 years earlier, “Everyone wants an extension to hours of service to avoid inconvenience, but what will you say when the crew that’s been on duty for longer than 12 hours accidentally falls asleep and passes a stop signal and rear-ends a loaded hazmat train, killing dozens or hundreds of people? A crew is probably not any less safe after 12 hours and one minute than they were a few moments ago, but you have to draw that line somewhere.” -Bostain (S)

The future is coming. Home automation, driverless cars, virtual reality and cyber wars are the heralds of a changing world. The nano revolution will usher in the massive change that will completely alter the world as we know it. For now, we wait.

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