Friday, January 28, 2005

Thoughts on a Train Crash

Our little hometown made national news this week due to a train derailment that resulted in the deaths of 11 people. The tragedy is that the crash occurred because someone who was too inept to successfully commit suicide allowed his SUV to remain on the tracks where he had intended to meet his demise by risking the lives of hundreds of commuters. The shame is that under these exact circumstances, there is no reason why anyone had to lose their life but for the Metrolink practice of "push-pull."

I came up with this argument today before I realized that others smarter than I had already reached the same conclusions. As explained in this article from USA Today, it is a fairly common practice for commuter trains to keep the locomotive at one end of the train, regardless of which direction the train is headed. Thus, at one point in the day, the engine "pushes," and on the return trip it "pulls." The problems with this technique are many. There are dynamic issues of stability (imagine pushing a rope across the floor rather than pulling it) that can exacerbate the potential for a train to derail should the leading car encounter an abnormality in the tracks. There are undoubtedly visibility problems associated with the engineer working from the back of the train. It is said that a locomotive is more capable of shunting aside obstacles on the track, both due to the locomotive's strenght and the "pushing the rope" phenomenon.

To me, an equally significant issue is the fact that a railway car leading the train provides absolutely no crash protection. Pictures of the Glendale wreck show that the leading edge of the lead car was largely demolished. Althought the ensuing derailment (thanks in part to the "pushing the rope" principle) led to injuries throughout the train, no other car exhibited the scale of damage suffered by the lead car. I must assume that the majority of the deaths came from that area of the train.

Driving a train with a passenger car as the lead element is akin to riding on the hood of a car. The passengers have no protection at all, and I suspect that railway cars are not construted with any particular "crush zones" in mind, as is the case with automobiles. In any event, there is no room for a crush zone on a train; the front of the car ends with a door for passage to other cars to which it may be attached.

Had the locomotive struck the stranded car, it is likely that the train would have derailed. However, the brunt of the direct impact would have been taken by the locomotive. Unfortunately, in addition to a derailment, the passengers in the leading car were subjected to the direct collision between the 40 mph train and the 4000 lb SUV. Metrolink and other passenger rail carriers should immediately adopt standards of operation that prohibit the "push-pull" technique. It is simply unconscionable to allow passengers to be exposed to the first risk of injury in the event of a collision.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

It Seems I Have Lived Too Long

Thomas Hayden Church has been nominated for an Academy Award.

Ah, yes, the exquisitely nuanced japery of Lowell, the brooding masculinity of Ned ... these roles were the building blocks of a career. They were the Burma Shave signs on Mr. Church's lonely road to inevitable cinematic greatness.

Wake me when Crystal Bernard stars in a Merchant-Ivory film.

It's Been Nearly Eighteen Years ...

... since I last went to a U2 concert. The wait is now over. I have tickets in hand, four days before they go on sale to the public, for the April 5 show at Staples Center. The presale went out to subscribers. They talk a big game about subscribers getting great seats, but I have serious doubts. Since I last saw the boys from across an entire football stadium, though, I won't complain about being in an arena that holds at least 50,000 fewer people. We saw Paul McCartney at Staples, and a we certainly enjoyed the show.

Based on the location of our reserved seats, I should be able to provide an in-depth report about the top of Bono's head.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Christmas in January

As Dylan might sing: Packages, they are arrivin'.

I've finally allowed myself to get a few items for the cars. To go with the new Porter-Cable Porter-Cable orbital polisher, a tasty set of Sonus polishing pads arrived yesterday. Today I received the good news that the hood struts I ordered from the good folks at Pelican Parts arrived early, so I can bloody my knuckles replacing those (to avoid bonking my noggin when the front or rear hoods close on me). Next week I will receive a leather treatment system that has been shown to substantially restore and soften typically hard German leather car seats. Whee!

Up next: hydraulic jack and jack stands. How else can I clean the wheel wells?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Weirdest Exotic Car at the LA Auto Show

There are many candidates for this title, but in person, the SLR Mercedes takes the cake. The proportions on this car are simply bizarre. This is a mid-engine car, but the passenger compartment is behind the engine. The driver and passenger sit nearly atop the the rear axle, which wouldn't be so striking (the same can be said of a BMW Z3 or Z4, or AC Cobra) if it were not for the fact that the front axle is waaaaay out there, fully ahead of the long V-12 engine. It looks awkward in pictures, and just wrong in the flesh. The length of the nose is awkward, and the rear of the car is so forshortened that it gives the appearance that the designers only had a certain amount of length allocated to the car and they mistakenly used most of it up on the front, requiring them to smash a little tail on the end to fit the car into the shipping box. A mildly shortened top-fuel dragster would have the same layout and proportions.

And possibly the same performance (even with a slushbox -- shame, Mercedes!).

Let's Perpetuate Some Stereotypes, Shall We?

I have no idea why CNN thinks this is a news story (and I mean that in a completely un-ironic way). Amusing, maybe, but only in the sense of we-all-know-those-people-are-trash-and-here's-proof, and there is no actual story. It must be tough, Tennessee, when another Southern outfit (Atlanta-based CNN) cracks back on you for being, well, the embodiment of what coast-dwellers believe is the true South.

Yeah, they probably all voted for Bush, too. Typical. Where's my apple martini?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Stay in School!

I have no particular affection for USC (for those of you on the East Coast and may be misguided, that's the University of Southern California; locally, it's University of South Central). However, every once in a while a normal person ventures forth from that fine institution. Defying the double whammy money-grubbing image of both USC students/grads and big-time athletes, Matt Leinert, quarterback of the national champion football team, has elected to stay in school to complete his degree and his final year of athletic eligibility.

Leinert, by all accounts, is a good guy. He even has admitted on local radio show that he doesn't feel he is mentally or physically ready yet for the NFL -- he's right, and he's almost alone among his peers in being honest enough to say so. The NFL money will be there even if he suffers a severe injury (see Willis McGahee). QBs who stay in school also tend to be more complete, successful NFL players (see Ben Roethlisberger).

Plus, he's the QB for the two-time defending national champs of college football on a team that will be well positioned to go for a third title, in a glamorous city. Big Man on Campus doesn't get much bigger than that. Good decision, Matt.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Least Favorite Car at the LA Auto Show

Based on a highly scientific polling procedure (eavesdropping on the people around me), it seems that the big loser of the LA Auto Show was the VW Phaeton. While people seemed to like the car, I saw more rolled eyes and open scoffing there than anywhere else. Why? $105,000, that's why. The price tag reduced people to laughter. While that number might bring a shrug of the shoulders over in the Mercedes exhibit, show visitors openly mocked VW's attempt to go up market. Unfortunately, it's not because the car is lousy (in fact, it is feature-laden, luxurious and powerful, and the lines around it were as packed as any other car at the show). It is because VW made its reputation on inexpensive transportation, and the car-buying world will not accept anything else.

You want a lesson on depreciating assets? Look on in a couple of years for used Phaetons. They will be the steal of the luxury class.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A Long Season in the Making

Let's see, the Dodgers just signed a big, blond righthander. Decent power, good sinker. Laconic termperament, given to disappearing for long stretches of the season, but can pull out a dazzler just when you've given up on him. The Dodgers already have Darren Dreifort; why do they need Derek Lowe?

Even if Perez, Lowe and Penny play up to their capabilities, this is going to be a replay of 2003: solid pitching, absolutely no offense. Jeff Kent is the only capable bat in the lineup now, and he's useless without a Bonds, Bagwell, Berkman or Beltran hitting around him in the lineup. The best "B" the Dodgers have is Bradley. 'Nuff said.

As a Giants fan, I'm shedding no tears. Unfortunately, I'll have to live with endless moaning from the local radio shows and newspaper columnists. I think Depodesta has a workable plan, and that the Dodgers will be better for it in the next couple of years (if McCourt will pony up the $$). I'm not sure I'll be able to take the local media chicken littles for that long, though.


After 90+ hours of continuous rain, blue skies have returned to SoCal, at least for a few hours. While the rain was seldom torrential, it was constant. The land just wears out after a while. Anywhere there is a roadside slope between home and the office, there is mud on the road, often resulting in the closure of the lane. Nothing as dramatic as this, though.

The nursery-worth of plants sitting in our back yard awaiting final installation appreciated the drenching, though.