Big and Heavy things that Travel Fast along the Ground have a lot of Dangerous Kinetic Energy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 1st, 2013

Week in Review

The most dangerous parts of flight are the landing and taking off parts.  Why?  Because planes are big and heavy.  And they travel fast.  And whenever anything big and heavy travels fast near the ground bad things can happen.  Because that’s a lot of kinetic energy that can do a lot of damage when it comes to a sudden and unexpected stop.  But up in the air away from the ground planes easily earn their title as the safest way to travel.  For up in the lonely expanses of the sky they can travel in excess of 500 miles per hour without a care in the world.  Because the odds of them striking anything are virtually zero.  This is where big and heavy things that travel fast belong.  Not on the ground.  Like high-speed rail.  For even low-speed rail can be dangerous (see New York train derailment: Safety officials recover ‘black box’ by Tina Susman posted 12/1/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

Investigators have recovered the “event recorder” from a Metro-North train that derailed in New York City early Sunday, a major step toward determining what caused the crash that killed four people and left scores injured…

Earl F. Weener of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news briefing that the agency expected to have investigators on the scene in the Spuyten Duyvil area of the Bronx for a week to 10 days.

“Our mission is to understand not just what happened but why it happened, with the intent of preventing it from happening again,” Weener said. He said investigators had not yet talked to the train’s operator. Some local media have said the operator has claimed that he tried to slow down at the sharp curve where the derailment occurred but that the brakes failed.

The speed limit at the curve is 30 mph, compared to about 70 mph on straight sections of track.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the area is “dangerous by design,” because of the curve, but he said the bend in the track alone could not be blamed for the crash.

“That curve has been here for many, many years,” he told reporters at the scene, as darkness fell over the wreckage. “Trains take the curve every day … so it’s not the fact that there’s a curve here. We’ve always had this configuring. We didn’t have accidents. So there has to be another factor.”

High-speed rail is costly.  Because it needs dedicated track.  Overhead electric wires.  No grade crossings.  Fencing around the track.  Or installed on an elevated viaduct.  To prevent any cars, people or animals from wandering onto the track.  They need banked track for high-speed curves.  And, of course, they can’t have any sharp curves.  Because curves cause a train to slow down.  If they don’t they can derail.  Which may be the reason why this commuter train derailed.  It may have entered a curved section of track at a speed too great for its design.  Which shows the danger of fast trains on sharp turns.

There haven’t been many high-speed rail accidents.  But there have been a few.  All resulting in loss of life.  Because big and heavy things that travel fast along the ground have a lot of kinetic energy.  And if something goes wrong at these high speeds (collision with another train or derailment) by the time that kinetic energy dissipates it will cause a lot of damage to the train, to its surroundings and to the people inside.

The high speed of today’s high-speed trains is about 200 mph.  Not even half of what modern jetliners can travel at.  Yet they cost far more.  Most if not all passenger rail needs government subsidies.  Air travel doesn’t.  Making high-speed rail a very poor economic model.  But they are capital and labor intensive.  Which is why governments build them.  So they can spend lots of money.  And create a lot of union jobs.  Which tends to help them win elections.

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