South Carolina inspector only issued one citation in four years before fatal crash

Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2011 10:40 AM | Contributed by Jeff

A South Carolina inspector fired after he falsified a report about a children’s train ride that crashed, killing a 6-year-old boy, issued only one violation in more than three years of examining amusement park rides, according to an Associated Press review of state records.

Read more from AP via The Washington Post.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 11:13 AM

Obviously, this is damning information for what looks to be fast becoming a blame game. I would love to know more, though. Has anyone gone back over them (or will anyone) to determine how many citations there should have been? The comparison data to other inspectors is helpful, but not at all conclusive.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 12:05 PM

Obviously this promotes the possibility of someone "on the take" or "who just didn't care". What bothers me even more is that this happens every single day in all industries - but the issue I have is we have no control over fate.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 12:44 PM

We definitely need to regulate inspectors and inspect regulators.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 12:53 PM

I wonder if the engineers attorney had something to do with the probing of this investigators activities?

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:46 PM

I have found that a lot of state inspectors really don't understand miniature railroads. There is a lot to go over if it's done properly. There is a lot more than just looking at the train itself. The track needs to be walked with a rolling gauge. Condition of the crossties and their spacing. The condition of the rail, rail joiners and the subgrade. Soft ground under the track is big trouble, but all too common. An average size layout (your typical CP Huntington installation) if done correctly should take an inspector the better part of a day. And it should be done every time it's inspected. I would wager that a lot of them walk in, ask to look at the logs , look at the train then sign off on it, which is what happened here.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 7:40 PM

The first thing here is that correlation isn't causation. A crappy inspector isn't the reason the train crashed. But there are some take-aways that are important to note. To Andy's well-place sarcasm, it illustrates to the Ed Markey's of the world that regulation doesn't equate to perfect safety. As long as there are humans, there will be injuries.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Personally, I think a governor on the train would've prevented the accident. Whether or not you think it's fast enough in the straight-aways doesn't matter to me unless you're going to consider the qualifications of the operator. If he's some minimum wage schmuck, then we have a lot of the same conversations as we did about the guy in the Dells who dropped that girl 100 feet.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 8:56 PM

That's a good point Jeff. Either make it idiot proof or don't let it be run by idiots.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 9:30 PM

That's an even better way to put it. :)

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 11:47 PM

+1 to Jeff. We don't know why this inspector didn't write up a slew of violations. Was he not looking for trouble? Was he just unusually accommodating about not citing stuff that was fixed "on the spot"? I think number of citations issued is a terrible metric for evaluating an inspector. That said, we already have n admission that this guy was misrepresenting inspections; he was caught once and lost his job over it.
It is easy to forget that nobody wanted the incident to happen, and in fact was it the mechanic who said something about making sure everything was right fo the inspector, or working on it until it was right? And notice how ultimately no mechanical fault (apart from the train flopping over, of course) was identified as the proximate cause of the incident? This tragedy did not happen because an inspector messed up on a mechanical inspection, or because an inspector didn't write a bunch of tickets.
At the same time I am not ready to hang the operator either. The operator is the one whose actions caused the derailment. But how aware was the operator of the requirements for that part of the ride? Was there any feedback to say, "Hey, Schmuck, you are going too fast, slow it down here!". I like Jason's statement. Let's add to that, if the thing is not idiot proof and the operator is not an idiot, make sure he also isn't ignorant.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011 9:26 AM

Well, Dave, that's pretty much what I was getting at with my post, too. Number of citations without context is not conclusive.

I don't think this has anything to do with the accident, but unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), the accident is revealing the potential wrongdoings of the inspector. That's how it works sometimes. It's not like what he's done can be ignored just because it didn't cause this particular accident.

It seems a bunch of people were doing a bunch of things wrong. Did any of it cause this accident? Maybe not. But the accident is going to be the cause for their exposure and subsequent punishment. Like I said, that's just how things work sometimes.

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Friday, June 3, 2011 1:28 PM

I don't know the entire history of this train ride, but overall, it seems as if this may have been a long time coming. I have to preface by saying I have not seen the track directly myself, but it seems as if the track is abnormally sharp for this train. Why did that happen? Probably because of the available land. Did the people who built the track know this was going to be a problem? Maybe, or maybe not. They may have assumed that the ride could handle that sharp of a turn because the manufacturer allowed it. "The train can handle x radius curves" may have been in the spec sheet somewhere (if there was a spec sheet). And they may have felt safe because there was a fan governor on the engine, thus keeping the speed down. But, they may not have known that the max speed was too much for the curve they created. Remember, a train ride is not like a rollercoaster in that it may not be "engineered" by an engineer.

In hindsight, it all seems clear to us. But, not everyone had the knowledge up to this point to see what could go wrong.

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