Sunday, May 01, 2005

postal scrotum: Japan train derailment

Andrew writes in:

Hi Kevin,

Cool news on your Namsan hiking forays. As Matt Furey says, Kick butt and take names.

Re: The train derailment in Osaka - just like hitting the motorcycle brakes in a curve.

I hate being a geek, but I think the Japanese are going to gloss over this. The engineer & cynic in me each feel compelled to point out that the Osaka train derailment was actually (well, "possibly") caused by a mechanical failure. Or more to the point, a "safety" feature that engaged at a bad time.

Most train derailments in Japan (and they happen all the time) are caused when a driver in a curve sees something up ahead - generally a car stalled on the tracks. When the driver hits the brakes really hard, it's the braking-hard-in-the-corner that derails the train. It's like riding a motorcycle in a hard corner then hitting the brakes - that's A Really Bad Idea™.

It seems that the train derailment in Japan was caused by an auto-braking system. The kid driving the train hit the fatal curve at 65-mph, not the suggested 45-mph - which by itself shouldn't derail a train. It was the automatic braking system engaging that got the train to jump the tracks. Ugh, "safety" system my foot.

Here's the relevant bit from the end of the news article at MDN:

"However, he failed to reduce speed, and went into the curve at about 100 kilometers per hour, some 30 kilometers in excess of the speed limit.

The automatic emergency brakes functioned shortly afterwards, and the train derailed after tilting left at about 45 degrees, sending two of its seven carriages ramming into an apartment complex along the tracks."


The question going forward (and maybe your friend Justin can speak to this) is whether anyone will get the train company to even apologize for the "safety" feature. After all I've only got 2 technical degrees and *I* know not to slam on the brakes in a curve (be it motorcycle or train). It seems the train design people left something out.

I mean, if it were in the USA, the automatic-brake-engagement theory (without being proven) would have survivors getting paid via the court system (yes, a discussion for another time). But even if the analysis makes the news....I'm not hopeful for even a full-on apology.

But they'll be sure to blame the driver 110%. Which is fine to a point, he is responsible for driving too fast. Having said that, without any brakes slamming on - it looks like 107 people would still be alive.


107?? Damn. I hadn't checked the news in about 36 hours.


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