Are American Passenger Railcar Standards Too Tough?

Some people think so.

Videos like this might help to maybe back up on that thought.

The reason that American rail passenger cars are so robust is a legacy of the 19th Century and the use of wooden passenger cars.  In the 19th Century accidents that created a phenomena known as “telescoping”

Telescoping is caused by one railroad car riding up inside another, like this.

In this case the more robust diner rammed through the older sleeper that hadn’t had the ends reinforced.  If they had been the results would have been a derailment like below, rather than a telescope.

The Master Car Builders and the Association of American Railroads have been working on preventing such accidents while lowering car weights for a long time.  That development includes full scale tests like the ones below.

This has been very successful in lowering the casualties in the several very bad rail accidents in my area  and near Philadelphia recently.  This accidents and the number of people who survived are testament to how well the engineering for dealing with crashes has worked and validates the long experience behind the FRA rules.

The flip side is shown by the more lightly constructed in Italy and the recent accident in Bari.  Where there was a telescope and many people were killed and injured.

It’s easy to complain about the fatigue cracks due to the fact that somebody didn’t take into account the heavier loading on the equalizers on the new SEPTA cars.  Though the long history of transit cars with fatigue issues in NYC would make you think that somebody in SEPTA would look out for the loadings on the equalizers before signing off on the design.  Especially if changes were made. Still this sort of stuff happens.  In any case the problem is fairly easily solved and those SEPTA cars are hardly the first fleet to have emerging issues.  At least the Wheel didn’t come off like they did for Metro North back in the 1980’s

If anybody is curious about the nearly 200 year history of the American rail passenger car I highly recommend John H. White’s seminal book, The American Rail Passenger Car



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