Train Wreck: UND professor makes new waves with book about rail disasters

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Train Wreck: UND professor makes new waves with book about rail disasters

University of North Dakota Professor George Bibel has done it again--his latest popular book is about train crashes and follows his Beyond the Black Box, a well-received book about airplane crashes.

Bibel teaches mechanical engineering in the University of North Dakota College of Engineering and Mines.

Bibel's latest book, commissioned by the Johns Hopkins University Press, details the causes and origins of the worst rail disasters. Bibel also meticulously reviews the long and consistent advances in rail safety, some prompted in the aftermath of particularly bad accidents.

"Train wrecks more-or-less occur the same way they did 100 years ago, but far less frequently," said Bibel, whose airplane crash book quickly became the talk of the aviation industry and the press, appearing in such notable media as the Huffington Post and the New York Times. "Trains still come off the tracks or derail; and trains still collide. I was looking for simple explanations for why these things happened, but I couldn't find any, so I collected and developed my own."

"I tried to write a science book that tells stories, or a storybook that teaches about science, that's my niche," said Bibel, who was invited to Boeing several times and to the Smithsonian to give presentations about his airplane crash book. "My new book is not just about train crashes and how they happen, but it includes basic—and some complex—ideas about physics and other sciences."

Just recently, a coal train derailed in downtown Ellicott City, Md., killing two college students who were sitting on the railroad bridge when the accident occurred. In 2011, more than 400 trains derailed on main tracks--down 90 percent from 35 years ago.

"Rail travel is much safer than it was, and safer than most other forms of transportation, certainly more efficient," Bibel said. "Unfortunately, we can't reduce the risks to zero."

The fact is, trains are massive—some weighing 15,000 tons or more. When these metal monsters collide or go off the rails, their destructive power becomes clear. In Train Wreck, Bibel presents riveting tales of trains gone wrong, the detective work of finding out why, and the safety improvements that were born of tragedy.

Train Wreck details 17 crashes in which more than 200 people were killed. Readers follow investigators as they sift through the rubble and work with computerized event recorders to figure out what happened. Using a mix of eyewitness accounts and scientific explanations, Bibel draws us into a world of forensics and human drama.

Train Wreck is a fascinating exploration of runaway trains, bearing failures, metal fatigue, crash testing, collision dynamics and bad rails.

For author interviews, see contact information below.

Contacts: George Bibel, professorDepartment of Mechanical EngineeringUND College of Engineering and Mines701-777-4918 george.bibel@engr.und.edu

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