Investigators say excessive speed was cause for fatal miniature train crash

Posted Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:15 PM | Contributed by Walt S

The train that crashed in Spartanburg's Cleveland Park, killing a 6-year-old boy and injuring 28 others, was traveling more than twice the recommended speed when it tumbled off the tracks and into a creek bed, investigators announced Monday.

Read more from The Herald-Journal.

Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:33 PM

This is a sad situation for all parties involved, especially the families.
The article makes me wonder though how the park can operate 2 trains where one of them has a legitimate Governor (Speed Limiting Device) and the other has just a "spring"?

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:39 PM

I knew it. Let this be a lesson for ride operators that they should consider safety over exciting their guests.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 2:25 PM

A spring /fan type govenor was used for decades on air cooled motors, so that's not unusual. I tend to agree with Mr. Conrad's attorney, there is a lot more to this than what is being addressed. It looks like the state and county are trying to sweep it under the preverbial rug.

Last edited by Dutchman, Thursday, May 26, 2011 2:25 PM
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Thursday, May 26, 2011 4:30 PM

I would agree that it's a little strange that there wasn't a governor on the train. Do you really leave it up to the operator's discretion?

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 5:06 PM

But to what degree would the governor have helped? If the maximum allowable speed for the complete circuit is high enough to have allowed the train to derail on that curve, then the governor would make very little difference. Either that, or the governor gets set for the maximum speed for the worst curve on the ride, resulting in excessively long and boring rides...

I don't think it is really fair to call into question the train speed control when the proximate cause of the incident is excessive speed under the control of an operator. It would be appropriate to discuss whether the operator had the proper training and/or tools to know (a) how fast different parts of the course could be taken and (b) how fast the train was actually moving. But because the incident happened at a location where the safe speed is significantly lower than the maximum safe speed for the ride, I don't think the function of the governor is really an issue in this particular incident.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 6:08 PM

Operator negligence leads to fatalities. What other incident does this sound like....
The Dell's SCAD incident, where some kind of redundant feature would have saved a life. If I recall correctly a while back wasn't the inspector under some kind of scrutiny when the incident first happened or was it the park?

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 6:42 PM

When I've worked on rides that allowed me as an operator to have a certain amount of control over the speed and direction of the ride vehicle - you had a very specific set of guidelines as to what you were allowed to do.

On a particular train ride, several areas of the track had speed limits of 5mph (tight bends, level crossings etc) and between 10-15mph on shallow curves & straights.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 6:42 PM

JoshuaTBell said:
Operator negligence leads to fatalities. What other incident does this sound like....
The Dell's SCAD incident, where some kind of redundant feature would have saved a life. If I recall correctly a while back wasn't the inspector under some kind of scrutiny when the incident first happened or was it the park?

Pretty sure that it was the inspector/agency that was under scrutiny, and rightly so from what I remember thinking of the story. I would have to review things to recall exactly what my thoughts were, but I do remember coming down hard on the side of this being a serious issue with the inspector/agency (in addition to the operational issue), just as I did with the KK incident.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 8:45 PM

Also, the victim in the Dells accident did not die, if that matters.

So what's wrong with a uniform speed 8 mph ride on a miniature train?

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Thursday, May 26, 2011 9:14 PM

Well, maybe nothing in this case. But, in the case of Knoebels, if the larger of their 2 miniature trains were limited like that, the ride circuit would take forever.

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Friday, May 27, 2011 5:28 AM

Your right, thanks for correcting me Jeff. The uniform speed idea seems plausible since you don't really ride a miniature train for speed.. Capacity is a different story however.
To RideMans point, training should be questioned against the parks ability to operate rides safely and the inspector on how to inspect rides in the best interest of safety. I think maXairMike is correct that the inspector/park has a questionable role in this situation that shouldn't be overlooked.

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Friday, May 27, 2011 1:41 PM

There may be nothing wrong with putting an 8 mph governor on this train. But it was noted in one of the reports that there was an 8 mph limit on the curve, and limits of 12-15 mph elsewhere on the course. I seem to recall also hat when the incident occurred the train was estimated to be going 22mph, when if it were governor equipped it should have been limited to 15 mph.
But none of that matters if the operator did not have some way of knowing how fast the train was going, some method which maps to the speed limit for the curve. Note that to meet the requirement I just set out, a speedometer is useful, but is not the only way the requirement can be met.
As for the inspector...when the State inspector called on this train, the train was not in operating condition. The inspector performed a mechanical inspection of the train, but was not able to operate the train. Neither of those issues is really a problem. The problem is that the inspector checked the box indicating, "Verified proper operation" when in fact the train did not operate during the inspection. We have not heard much more about this, probably for two reasons...first, the inspector has been discharged, and second, it sounds like there was not really anything wrong with the train that would have been caught if it had been operational for the inspection. In other words, the inspector's conduct was wrong, but in the end was apparently not a proximate or contributing cause of the incident.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Friday, May 27, 2011 11:38 PM

MTC G16s were originally powered by a Wisconsin air cooled motor, that was connected to single speed transmission with a foward and reverse via a fluid coupling. The maximum speed under power was determined by the actual speed of the motor and the gear reduction ratio on the drive line. Yes you can govern the top speed of the motor, they used a spring loaded vane that was placed in close proximity to the flywheel. By adjusting the spring tension you set the max RPM that the motor will run. Most of these that I've seen the motor doesn't run that much faster wide open than a lawnmower at idle. The fluid coupling doesn't fully engage, in other words it's slipping all the time, so it's possible depending upon the profile of the layout to find yourself moving faster than your throttle setting.

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is the extent of modifications that the parks dept mechanics have done to the locomotives there. I've yet to see a virgin original MTC or Herschell G16, one that hasn't been re engineered. They originally had a full instrument gage panel that included a speed indicator (not a true speedometer, but it gave the operator a reference point). Most of the ones that I've seen in person don't have that feature anymore, and hadn't for some time. A lot of them have non original motors, different drive systems, different brake systems (the original design used vacuum brakes, I've seen a lot retrofitted with straight or automatic air brakes) and electrical systems (the early models used a 6 VDC system like the automobiles of the era).

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that there is potentially a lot more involved with this than "operator error". The fact that they have identified the person as an "enthusisast" makes him an easy scapgoat.

Last edited by Dutchman, Saturday, May 28, 2011 12:01 AM
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Friday, May 27, 2011 11:48 PM

I'm going to be lazy and not pull up the original article/thread (and accompanying engineer's blog), but I seem to remember in the blog a mention of newly repaired/installed and faulty brake mechanisms, that were known to the operator. I also seem to recall the park pushing to have the train open and there were modifications that weren't finished and left out, or left halfway done. It sounded from the way the engineer talked, that he operated the train in that manner every time. I think Dutchman may be right, that there is a lot more here than simple operator error, although I wouldn't be able to draw the exact points up without the blog, especially.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 11:08 AM

What bothers me most about this is the idea that it took the crash to convince the operator that he was going too fast. I would assume there would have been physical indications that the train is going too fast even before derailing, wouldn't you think?

I would think the train would have been shimmying and shaking. Obviously, I have no idea for sure. But it seems weird that a train derails without prior warning.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:34 PM

Not weird at all. Generally with trains of all sizes from 1 1/2" scale on up to full size ones there is usually no warning at all. You can do something the same way at the same location for years with nothing happening. Then one day there can be a miniscule change in something, a minor settling in the roadbed, a shifting in the load at that particular spot, a hidden defect in the rail or wheels finally surfaces, or a miriad of other issues can come into play and you wind up with it on the ground. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred all you wind up with is a bumpy ride for a few feet until the train is brought to a stop. Unfortuntely this time that wasn't the case.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:40 PM

Isn't the video of the crash posted anywhere on CoasterBuzz? Upon viewing the video, it was clear that the train was going to fast. Kids were screaming, the train was bouncing and shaking, and then BOOM!

It was a terrifying thing to see.

Found it. Warning: this video is pretty disturbing.

Last edited by LostKause, Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:45 PM
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 9:03 PM

Not to be cavalier. But, up until the last few seconds, I don't see any of that screaming as any different than kids screaming on kiddie coasters.

Last edited by Jason Hammond, Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:32 PM
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 9:28 PM

I haven't watched the video since it was first posted, but I don't remember seeing or hearing anything out of the norm, either, before the derailment.

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