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Investigators say deadly Amtrak train crash was preventable…

Investigators make their way around wreckage under a highway overpass where two trains collided near Cayce, S.C., on Feb. 4. (Bob Leverone / Getty Images)

Federal investigators are trying to figure out why a rail switch was in the wrong position, sending an Amtrak train into a freight train and killing a conductor and an engineer in South Carolina.

But they already know what could have prevented the wreck that injured more than 100 passengers: a GPS-based system called “positive train control,” which knows the location of all trains and the positions of all switches in an area, and can prevent the kind of human error that puts two trains on the same track.

“It could have avoided this accident. That’s what it’s designed to do,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

Regulators have demanded the implementation of positive train control for decades, and the technology is now in place in the Northeast, but railroads that operate tracks used by Amtrak elsewhere in the U.S. have won repeated extensions from the government. The deadline for installing such equipment is now the end of 2018.

CSX Corp. — the freight railroad operator that runs the stretch of track in the South Carolina crash — issued a statement expressing condolences but said nothing about the cause.

“Business as usual must end,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said after the crash.

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How the snowstorm is affecting mass transit, travel


A wicked nor’easter is battering the New York area, bringing snow and whipping winds, and bitterly cold temperatures are expected in its aftermath. Here’s how the storm is affecting public transportation and travel.

MTA subways and buses

Station crews are deployed to clear snow and to salt platforms, as well as station entrances, sidewalk vents, emergency exits and other transit operational and employee facilities. Mobile wash operations for stations and refuse trains are suspended during this time. Personnel have activated 500 track switch heaters, more than 1,600 third-rail heaters and lift-rail heaters systemwide. While the underground portions of the subway system are unaffected during snowstorms, nearly 220 miles of outdoor track throughout the boroughs are particularly vulnerable to snow and freezing precipitation, including portions of the A, S, N, 7, B, Q and 5 lines.

To combat ice buildup, non-passenger trains will continuously operate in outdoor tracks to help snow and ice accumulation. Trains are also deployed with ice-scraping shoes, and diesel trains will be activated as de-icers. Personnel will have access to 600,000 pounds of calcium chloride and 200,000 pounds of sand to melt snow and ice.

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This is BART: Life Lessons from Riding Public Transportation


I’ve been blogging for The Huffington Post since 2015 on various aspects of how the humanities can benefit educations in management and public administration at The University of San Francisco. Twice I have featured an example of how one of my students interpreted an Ethical Will assignment as part of a required ethics class in all programs. I decided I would conclude 2017 by making this an annual tradition. To recall, an Ethical Will is an informal document that is often included with people’s estate planning papers. It is a letter to the future, in which you share the relationships, accomplishments, and values that made your life satisfying. This letter takes no special training to write, and does not have to follow any particular format; it is simply an opportunity to tell your beneficiaries what is important to you. I encourage students to think beyond the epistolary form and to exercise their unique creativity in generating a legacy.

To prepare them for this task, students are guided through a series of mediations, readings, podcasts, and videos, all aimed at stimulating their reflection on their lives and how they have come to identify and live their core values. Among the resources students consult is David Foster Wallace’s now famous commencement speech which he delivered at Kenyon College in 2005 “This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life,” covers subjects including “the difficulty of empathy,” “the importance of being well adjusted,” and “the essential lonesomeness of adult life.” Wallace begins with a parable:

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Self-driving buses in Maine? Bill before the Legislature could make it happenSelf-driving buses in Maine? Bill before the Legislature could make it happen

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings envisions a driverless shuttle connecting the Portland Transportation Center with the city’s downtown and waterfront. Courtesy of the City of Portland

A bill before the Legislature would help set the stage for putting self-driving buses on the streets of Portland and other Maine communities within the next five years.

The proposal, sparked by the Portland city manager’s interest in autonomous transit, is the first piece of Maine legislation to deal specifically with self-driving vehicles, according to Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, House chairman of the Transportation Committee.

Rep. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, this fall sponsored L.R. 2611, which would allow towns and cities to start pilot programs in partnership with state agencies.

“There is no law that expressly prohibits self-driving vehicles, but there are many regulations that assume a driver will be behind the steering wheel or assumes it will even have a steering wheel,” Sanborn said.

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You can now text for safety help on Metro Transit buses, trains


 – Metro Transit has a new safety feature that allows bus and light rail passengers to discreetly report any suspicious or unwanted behavior with a text message. Using the “Text for Safety” feature, customers are put in direct contact with trained Metro Transit staff who can respond by text and send Transit Police if needed.

Metro Transit expects the new texting feature to be particularly useful in harassment situations and other scenarios in which a passenger may not feel safe making a phone call for help.

Customers can access the service anytime, seven days a week by sending a text message to 612-900-0411 or through the Metro Transit app. The Text for Safety service is free but standard messaging rates apply.

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Amtrak did not wait for system that could have prevented wreck

© The Associated Press Workers look over tracks near the rear car of a crashed Amtrak train that remains standing where the southbound tracks make a curve left Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in DuPont, Wash. The Amtrak train that careened off the

The rush to launch service on a new, faster Amtrak route near Seattle came at a deadly cost critical speed-control technology that could have prevented a derailment was not active before the train set off on its maiden voyage.

Work to install the sophisticated, GPS-based technology known as positive train control isn’t expected to be completed until next spring on the newly opened 15-mile (24-kilometer) span where the train derailed, according to Sound Transit, the public agency that owns the tracks.

The train was going 80 mph (129 kph) in a 30 mph (48 kph) zone Monday when it raced off the rails as they curved toward a bridge, hurtling train cars onto a highway below, investigators said. Three people were killed, and dozens were injured. Federal investigators say they are looking into whether the engineer was distracted.

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Amtrak derailment: Train crashes near Tacoma, Washington, fatalities reported


Several people were killed Monday after an Amtrak train derailed while traveling on the first day of a new route outside Tacoma, Washington.

“There have been multiple casualties as a result of the Amtrak derailment near Tacoma, Washington,” Pierce County spokesman Ed Troyer said of the 7:40 a.m. incident. “The casualties include multiple injuries and fatalities.”

The cause is under investigation, Troyer said. There were 78 passengers and five crew members on board, Amtrak said.

Passenger Chris Karnes told MSNBC that the train derailed while traveling on tracks that are part of a new route in and out of Tacoma. The southbound train had just passed the city of Dupont and was traveling about 70 mph, he said.

“At a certain point the train started to wobble a little bit and the next thing that we knew we were down in a ditch,” Karnes, member of a local transportation advisory group, said. “The train had crumpled.”

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Memphis Trolley Return Pushed Back to April

Photo: Justin Fox Burks

The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) announced Monday that the return of the vintage, steel-wheeled trolley will be delayed until April 2018.

The trolleys were originally scheduled to be up and running by the end of this year, but MATA officials said a handful of safety issues stand in the way of that.

Three of the six cars needed to restart the service will not be ready by the slated deadline, as rotting wood was discovered in the trolleys during their reconstruction at an Iowa-based trolley company.

Representatives with Gomaco Trolley Company told MATA officials that after repairs are made to the three trolleys’ underbodies, roofs, and floors, they should be ready to ship to Memphis no later than January.

Then, MATA must test the cars without passengers on the tracks to ensure the trolleys are operating up to safety standards.

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Houston-Dallas bullet train clears hurdle with environmental impact statement

Photo: Under Permission Of JR Central

The long-awaited Texas “bullet train” cleared an important hurdle Friday when the Federal Railroad Administration released a draft environmental impact statement identifying a preferred route between Dallas and Houston as well as potential passenger station locations.

The FRA analysis, which took roughly four years to complete, will kick off a consultation and land acquisition process that could eventually link the state’s two largest urban and economic centers with a travel time less than 90 minutes at more than 200 mph, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley near College Station.

“This is the biggest milestone to date that we’ve crossed so far,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Partners, the company developing the project. “This is actually the beginning of a document that will allow us to build the bullet train.”

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Kansas City’s streetcar, which began service in 2016, is considered a success. Could it work in Omaha?

Photo: Juila Nagy / The World Herald

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in November, people filled a shiny streetcar as it hummed through downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Most of the 38 blue plastic seats were occupied. Several dozen more people stood. They held onto stainless steel poles, or to loops dangling from bars connected to the ceiling. Office workers talked about their lunch plans. Field-tripping high school students chattered.

Retirees Ona Ashley and her real-bearded Santa Claus husband, Roy Poe, took it all in as they stood in the middle of the crowd. They had driven in from the suburbs to try Kansas City’s new RideKC streetcar. They smiled through their glide through a revived downtown.

“It’s wonderful,” Ashley said.

“We would have loved to have this when we worked downtown,” Poe said.

“It feels,” Ashley said, “like we are progressing.”

Cities across the nation are similarly trying to go back to the future with a streetcar.

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