Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Automated Railroading

The terrible wreck on the DC Metro last week got me thinking about automated railroading in general.

Let me first say that I have ridden the Metro and I have always been very impressed by it. I have never felt any fear at all that the automated systems were unreliable or would result in such a wreck.

Nonetheless, as we move toward further reliance on automatic train stop and other systems for Passenger Rail, I wonder what will happen when the money runs out. Granted, there is more focus on the lack of reinforced car ends and anticlimber engineering for the cars than there is on the automated system that would have had to fail in order for the DC wreck to happen. These cars didn't have the engineering due to lack of cash. And it remains to be seen whether the system failure was also because of deferred spending.

What happens to our automated systems when the money runs out? It will run out, you know. Someday, the pendulum will swing back in the other direction and nobody will want government to subsidize rail again. The question becomes: Do we spend enough now to design fail-safe systems that will be able to age gracefully? And do we spend enough time to retain the necessary skills among our railroaders so that, when and if the systems fail, we can still run trains the old way?

It's interesting to think of what Passenger Rail in the United States will be like in 20 or 30 years. Hope I'm around to see it, whatever it is like.

©2009 - C. A. Turek - mistertrains@gmail.com
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