What caused the big jolt that rocked a Capitol Corridor train, injuring several riders, earlier this month?
There’s no official answer so far. The Federal Railroad Administration is looking into the Dec. 7 incident when a westbound morning train near Davis suddenly tilted dramatically one direction and then back the other. But the FRA says it won’t publish the results for another few months. Amtrak is looking into the incident as well, but has declined to say when it will offer its report. Capitol Corridor officials also are silent.
We’ve talked with three people who were on the train. All said whatever happened was so violent they thought the train was going to derail. One said a crew member confided that she also thought the train was going “to eat dirt.”
A passenger who was looking out the window said the train clearly switched tracks at operating speed when the jolt occurred. That could mean the train crew was unaware the track switch was open, and that the train was going too fast to make a smooth junction.
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Ilga Brzovic of Sacramento appeared to be the worst injured. She broke a thumb and says she injured her neck. The event compounded body tremors she was already suffering.
Brzovic said she was standing at the snack bar in the cafe car when the jolt occurred. A man standing next to her managed to bear-hug her before she tumbled. “He held me up,” she said. “I would have fallen and broke my neck.”
She doesn’t know who the man was, only that his instincts were good.
Lane splitting, where a motorcyclist cuts between two cars in adjoining lanes, which informally has been legal in California, is about to become formally legal.
Previously, the state Vehicle Code was silent on the act, which angers many car drivers, startled as cyclists whiz by. A new law, AB 51, to go into place next week, adds lane splitting to the code. The new code section will be 21658.1. (a) for you code watchers. It basically defines lane splitting and allows the CHP to come up with lane-splitting safety guidelines.
In years past, CHP officials said they don’t think motorcyclists should lane-split at regular freeway speeds, and should limit splitting speeds to 10 miles per hour faster than adjacent cars. A previous legislative bill suggested limiting lane splitting to 15 mph more than surrounding traffic.
Some of those newer big rigs you see on the roads are equipped with computer systems that control the shifting. That has made many trucks safer on snowy mountain passes, West Sacramento trucking president Richard Coyle of Devine Intermodal said.
Still, he and other trucking officials, speaking to the media about winter driving last week, asked drivers not to cut in front of trucks on mountain roads where braking is tricky. Also, trucking officials say, if you can’t see the truck’s side mirrors, the driver can’t see you.
If you are headed to the mountains this winter, keep in mind that one of the most dangerous spots on a mountain during a snowstorm is the chain control area. It’s an odd scene: Drivers on their knees in the snow next to their cars, while a few feet away, cars are coming and going, some sliding.
CHP says you should practice putting your chains on in your driveway or garage beforehand if you’ve never put chains on. Also, before you go up: Get a full tank of gas. Charge your cellphone. Add wiper fluid. Bring a blanket, water, flashlight, some food, gloves of course. And, bring a spare key. Caltrans officials say it is not unusual for people to lock themselves out of their cars at chain control areas.