Canadian train wreck

Canadian train wreck

PostBy: Freddy On: Tue Jul 09, 2013 6:33 am

My heart goes out to the town and people of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
I'm assuming it made the national news.... a train crash caused a huge explosion wiping out a large part of this small town & killing at least 13 people. I do not understand the cause. They say the parked train had an engine fire. A fire crew shut off the engine and put out the fire. They then left the scene. Because the engine was shut off, air pressure bled down & a while later the train started rolling. Eight miles of gaining speed caused it to derail. It was carrying cars of crude oil which exploded. In today's paper they reported that the engine was left running just to keep the brakes on. What? Last I knew the brakes of a train are always "on". To take the brake "off" you must start the engine and generate air. I have always thought that with no engine running, the brakes are on. So what gives? I've seen hundreds of parked trains & never once saw an engine running "to keep the brakes on". I'm confused.

Side note: Last week tree hugging protesters in Maine held a gathering to protest "fracked" oil from North Dakota going through Maine by rail. They don't like the idea of fracking and also don't like the danger of moving oil by rail. But, the danger they worried about was pollution in case of a spill. No one thought about explosions! This oil was in fact from North Dakota & before the explosion this train wreck was headed to come to Maine.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: Richard S. On: Tue Jul 09, 2013 7:10 am

Freddy wrote: What? Last I knew the brakes of a train are always "on". To take the brake "off" you must start the engine and generate air. I have always thought that with no engine running, the brakes are on. So what gives? I've seen hundreds of parked trains & never once saw an engine running "to keep the brakes on". I'm confused. .


If I'm understanding this correctly the cars have their own tanks that are charged by the train so they can independently be braked or allowed to roll without the engine if it's disconnected. It appears what happened here is the parking brake was never set on those cars.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: Cap On: Tue Jul 09, 2013 7:35 am

Strange, I read the train stopped overnight to exchange out the train operators. Never read th engine had a fire. And somehow the crude oil cars released & rolled. Amazes me how the news media can't get the correct facts.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: KLook On: Tue Jul 09, 2013 7:55 am

Something odd for sure. But Freddy, crude oil does not "come to Maine". It most likely was headed for St. John N.B. to the refineries there. It would have passed through Maine from above Jackman over to the Vanceboro area and into McAdam N.B. I have to admit I never realized they were putting oil on trains to carry it. :| And even if they do, I do not understand the explosion of said oil. I worked in the oil fields in Texas over 30 years ago and unrefined oil is a nasty liquid but did not blow up on us.

Kevin
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: Freddy On: Tue Jul 09, 2013 9:19 am

KLook wrote:I do not understand the explosion of said oil. I worked in the oil fields in Texas over 30 years ago and unrefined oil is a nasty liquid but did not blow up on us.


Certainly there is a lot missing from this story. As for the oil exploding I'm not sure..... This oil isn't "normal" crude oil, it has been fracked and is thinner and cleaner than "normal" crude. But I'm with you.... I think maybe it needs more than a train crash. Maybe there was a car of propane that helped things along? Or maybe because it's fracked oil it simply needs less atomization and less heat to go off. Maybe a train wreck is enough to cause an explosion. We need more facts in the story!


As for oil coming to Maine, we certainly don't use it, it doesn't come & stay or get used, it goes to a refinery in St John New Brunswick Canada. There is a gold rush of oil happening right before our eyes. Last March we had 2,000 barrels a day if oil come through Maine. This year we had 30,000 barrels a day in March. That's big! Some is coming from New Jersey direction, up through Portland and north and east from there.

Here's a couple of links to oil in Maine news:


http://www.kjonline.com/news/oil-crossi ... genum=full

That refinery in St John can handle 250,000 barrels a day!
Last edited by Richard S. on Thu Dec 12, 2013 7:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: <removed links behind a login>
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: KLook On: Tue Jul 09, 2013 10:57 pm

Good info Freddy, and I have watched many a tanker slide between Grand Manan and the Cutler/Lubec area. They scare the local fisherman to death when the fog is thick. Amazing to see them in rough weather, they look like a ledge going by. :shock:

Kevin
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: samhill On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 9:06 am

It's been awhile & I had limited experience with them but the engines we used had at least two (possibly 3) ratchet type parking brakes located along the walkway on each side of the engine & then each car had a air release rod that would drain the air from the line. If on a good grade (where you weren't supposed to park) you could also climb each car & crank that big wheel on top to lock the brakes against the wheels, one for each end of car. If done properly I don't know how a train could just take to rolling on it's own. JMO, the air pressure holds the brakes away from the wheel during normal operation & that's why it takes so long before they start to move a train that has been sitting, in the old days the brakeman would walk & check the length of the train & then ride the caboose & keep an eye out for any brake that may overheat but those days are long gone.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: Richard S. On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 9:41 am

samhill wrote: the air pressure holds the brakes away from the wheel during normal operation & that's why it takes so long before they start to move a train that has been sitting,


That's how it works on a truck and I would assume the same on a train. There is giant spring on the brake and the air pressure compresses that spring freeing the wheel to move, if you lose pressure the spring can no longer be compressed and it will automatically set the brakes. You can't move a truck that has air brakes if there is no pressure unless you manually "cage the spring" which involves going under the truck and turning this big nut which will compress the spring manually. However as I noted before it's my understanding each car has it's own reservoir tank so they would have a limited amount of times they could apply and unapply the brakes independently of the engine. That makes sense because they roll those cars without the engine giving them a little push in the yard, right?

Assuming the brakes on the train work exactly how a truck brake works the only reason they should need to run the engine for brakes is if they were using the regular brake, kind of like sitting there depressing the brake pedal. Once the engine is no longer making air the "foot" comes off the pedal releasing the brake and since those cars have their own tanks of air the parking brake never activates.

That's the only thing that makes sense to me but then again I'm no train expert.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: wsherrick On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 10:05 am

Okay, I guess I will explain how brakes work on a train. The system was invented by Westinghouse in 1867 and later improved in 1885. It is the 1885 version that is in service today with some changes but it is pretty much the same. Here is a diagram of a 6ET system. This is the system that I learned to run trains on. To be an engineer one must have a complete and thorough grasp of how these work. If not you can't be an engineer. Braking is an art form and not everyone gets it. Learning to properly stop trains is far more important than getting them rolling.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: wsherrick On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 10:24 am

Now, this is basically how the Westinghouse Brake works. You have an air compressor on the Locomotive and a large tank called the main reservoir. The air for the brake system is stored in the main reservoir. Then it is connected to all the cars on the train by the brake pipe. On each car or coach you have an auxiliary reservoir which also stores air. The brake pipe and the auxiliary reservoirs are kept at the same pressure. On a freight train that is 90 lbs psi.
To apply the brakes, the engineer releases a measured amount of air out of the brake pipe. This air escapes to the atmosphere. You have gauges which tells you what pressures are in each part of the system and how much you release during an application of the brakes.
What happens then is that the difference in pressure between the auxiliary reservoir and the brake pipe causes a valve to move under each car which opens a port which directs air FROM the auxiliary reservoir to the brake cylinders on the car and applies the brakes at the exact same corresponding pressure that the engineer released from the brake pipe. You can only reduce the brake pipe so much. On a freight train it is twenty six pounds. After that you get no more braking pressure.
You can't modify the application. Once you have taken it out, that is how much braking effort you get. If you apply to much brake, you have to release the brakes and re apply. You also have to closely monitor the pressure in the Main Reservoir. It is easily possible to over use the brakes and run yourself out of air. In that case you must release the brakes and allow the compressor to recharge the main reservoir and brake pipe.

The system works by REMOVING AIR from the system, that was designed to make it fail safe. If the train brakes in two or there is any disruption in the pressure in the brake pipe then the rapid loss of air causes the brakes to be applied on every wheel at an emergency rate. The engineer also has the ability to place the brake system in emergency. This is called, "dumping the train." Even in emergency, it takes a long time for a speeding train to stop.
The Hand Brakes referred to here are manual brakes that are applied on each car individually. These are only used when cars are placed in sidings or other such times. The hand brakes are never used while the train is in operation.
There is a whole lot more to it than I have explained here. If you have any questions, I will try to explain it to you.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: Freddy On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 10:41 am

Thanks for the info WSHerrick... and you give the same info that I got yesterday after I tracked down a "train person". The one thing you said is the most important, and it is what makes trains differ from trucks. You said:

wsherrick wrote: You can only reduce the brake pipe so much. On a freight train it is twenty six pounds. After that you get no more braking pressure.
You can't modify the application. Once you have taken it out, that is how much braking effort you get. If you apply to much brake, you have to release the brakes and re apply. You also have to closely monitor the pressure in the Main Reservoir. It is easily possible to over use the brakes and run yourself out of air. In that case you must release the brakes and allow the compressor to recharge the main reservoir and brake pipe.


Trains do NOT have a giant spring that applies the brakes if all air is lost. In trucks they call it a "Maxi".

So, in the Canada wreck, after the engine was off long enough, it lost all air pressure, lost all brakes, the train started rolling. From what I see, there is only three things that would have prevented this accident. 1) Someone realized and one way or another got a new air supply. 2) They set the hand brakes on every car before leaving (never happens, too much time, too much labor) or 3) the train had Maxi brakes. (none do)

Therefore, as humans we learn from mistakes. 9-11 taught us we never, ever, allow hijackers into an airplane cockpit. Before 9-11 we allowed it and simply took the hijackers where they wanted to go. We never realized they would want to die. So now, this event should force us to ask one question: How many more people must die before we put Maxi brakes on trains. As noted, this system hasn't changed in the last 128 years. I see in todays paper they are looking into building stronger tanks for trains so they might not rupture in a crash. I don't care if the tank is one inch armor plate, it can be compromised. I'm betting it would be cheaper to add maxi brakes.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: franco b On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:12 am

I find it hard to believe that a braking system could be devised that does not provide for a parking brake aside from manually setting at each car. And to have the problem overlooked for a hundred years?

If manual setting at each car was the only way then it should have been a rigid rule to do so on any incline. It seems the operators of that train were not aware of the shortcomings of the brake system which seems to me criminal that they were not aware, or was it a case of just too much trouble to manually set?

Perhaps William could advise us as to the guidelines in effect as he understands them.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: wsherrick On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:25 pm

Items such as Maxi brakes won't work in railroad applications. All the cars in a train must act together all during its operation. Remember train brakes are applied when air pressure is DROPPED. To release the brakes air pressure must be INCREASED. If anything happens to the train and the brake pipe is broken or a hole develops etc. The brakes automatically apply. It's very effective and almost fool proof. If an engineer over applies and depletes his main reservoir, he still has the option to place the brake system in emergency because there is still air in the auxiliary reservoirs under each car. You can't use that air for a normal application until the main reservoir and the brake pipe have been returned to their operating pressure. In this case you can have a potential runaway because by the time you recharge the brake system the train may have accelerated beyond the brakes ability to stop it and with a heavy freight train it may not be able to stop it before it's too late even with an emergency application.

This is what happened to me just the night before last. I was running No 41 to Port Jervis NY and while I was running at 80 MPH, a large buck decided to kill himself by jumping right in front of me. I heard him hit and roll under the train. The next minute the train went into emergency. The deer had broken the brake pipe hose connection between the first and second car. You see the brakes did what they were supposed to do. When the hose broke the instant lowering of pressure in the brake pipe caused all of the brakes to go into emergency. Of course I was very annoyed at having to climb under the train and repair the hose connection at 3:30 AM. But after the repair and I recharged the brakes, we went on our way, safe and sound.

I read what is currently available about the derailment in Canada. There is something fishy about this. It just doesn't sound right.
It could be that the reporting is in error. Most times reports about railroad incidents aren't very technically accurate. Many times an engineer is called a conductor. That's a terrible insult to an engineer. :D
If the train was secured for the night the brakes would have been applied at a full reduction and there would be no way for them to release by themselves. Even if the engine was shut off it would take days for the normal air leakage out of the auxiliary reservoirs to seep in and cause the entire train to release and then it would be individual cars, not the entire train. Someone had to release the brakes.
When a train is left unattended, THERE ARE A PLETHORA OF RULES THAT MUST BE ADHERED TO. A violation of any single one of those rules would mean the engineer would instantly lose his certification and his job and even go to jail if something happened due to his willful negligence.
All levers and handles that pertain to moving the train MUST be removed and locked up. This means the brake handles must be removed to prevent unauthorized tampering.
There must be; and I quote the rule book, "sufficient number of hand brakes set to prevent undesired movement of the train." So the brakemen should have set the required amount of hand brakes to prevent ANY movement of the train. Not to do so would mean INSTANT TERMINATION, INVESTIGATIONS AND PUNISHMENTS INCLUDING FINANCIAL PENALTIES. So if they didn't set the hand brakes that would be negligence of the highest order.
Railroading is one of the most serious jobs one can have. I can't believe this crew was this incompetent or negligent in the course of their duties.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: franco b On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 1:39 pm

Thank you William. You have made it a lot clearer.
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Re: Canadian train wreck

PostBy: Freddy On: Wed Jul 10, 2013 2:35 pm

William, thank you for the info. It's enlightening, but does point out one thing I guess we all kind of knew.... the reports on TV & in the newspapers are lacking. I guess we just have to wait & see how this boils down.
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