Quotulatiousness

July 2, 2015

Frankford Junction, Pennsylvania

Filed under: History,Railways,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rob McGonigal looks at the history of the railways in the area of Frankford Junction, where Amtrak train 188 came to grief in May:

In the aftermath of the tragic May 12 derailment due to excessive speed of Amtrak train 188 in Philadelphia, many casual observers wondered what a 50-mph curve is doing in the middle of the fastest, busiest rail corridor in the nation. It’s a reasonable question, especially given the generally tangent track and flat topography in the area.

The existence of that curve traces back to the earliest years of railroads in Philadelphia. As in many cities, Philadelphia’s rail network developed in piecemeal, uncoordinated fashion. What became Amtrak 188’s route through the city began in the 1830s as three separate projects.

The Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore ran generally southwestward from a terminal about a mile south of downtown (“center city” to Philadelphians). The Philadelphia & Columbia, part of the Main Line of Public Works rail/canal system to Pittsburgh, utilized a terminal in center city. The Philadelphia & Trenton, which connected with services to New York, originated in Kensington — an inconvenient 2½ miles northeast of center city. As Albert Churella relates in the first volume of his mammoth history of the PRR (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), municipal authorities in 1840 granted the P&T permission to extend its line into center city, where it would connect with other railroads. However, fierce opposition from teamsters, who profited from hauling freight between the rail terminals, and area residents, who did not want steam trains in their streets, prompted the city to revoke permission, and the P&T was not extended.

Two decades later, it was clear that the three lines should be connected. In 1864 the Junction Railroad was opened, linking the PW&B with the P&C’s successor on the line to the west — the Pennsylvania Railroad. (Indeed, the PRR had interests in all three of the lines by this time.) Three years later the Connecting Railway opened. It diverged from the P&C/PRR line at a place designated Mantua Junction (and later, in expanded form, Zoo interlocking), arced around the northern part of the city, and connected with the P&T in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. As with the connection at Mantua Junction, the geometry of the lines at Frankford Junction resulted in a sharp curve.

May 11, 2015

After 74 years, the remains of HMS Urge discovered off the Libyan coast

Filed under: Britain,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Telegraph a report on the discovery of a Royal Navy submarine wreck from 1942:

British U class submarine HMS URGE underway. (via Wikipedia)

British U class submarine HMS Urge underway. (via Wikipedia)

A Royal Navy submarine paid for by a town holding dances and whist drives is believed to have been discovered more than 70 years after it vanished during the Second World War.

The British submarine HMS Urge was paid for by the townspeople of Bridgend, South Wales, but sunk without trace in the Mediterranean in 1942.

It disappeared while making a voyage from the island of Malta to the Egyptian city of Alexandria – and families of the 29 crew and 10 passengers never knew what happened.

For more than 70 years, its resting place has remained a mystery. But a 76-year-old scuba diver claims he has discovered its wreck 160ft (50m) below the waves off the Libyan coast.

HMS Urge sonar image

April 25, 2015

Finnish divers binge on 200-year-old wine and beer

Filed under: Europe,History,Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Perhaps “binge” isn’t quite the right word to use…

Finnish divers recently discovered several crates of champagne and beer from a sunken ship that had been at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for nearly two centuries. The experts carefully identified, researched, and analyzed the alcohol…then they drank it.

The divers discovered the wreck just south of Aaland, a Finland-controlled archipelago of some 6,500 small islands in the Baltic Sea. Inside the sunken schooner, they found 168 bottles of champagne and an undisclosed amount of bottles of beer. The ship itself likely dates back to the second quarter of the 19th century, making its cargo almost certainly the oldest alcoholic drinks in existence. By comparison, the oldest wines in private hands are only thought to date back to the very end of the 1800s.

This entire story is a good reminder of a basic scientific truth — when in doubt, start drinking the 200-year-old booze. The divers first discovered the champagne was drinkable when changing pressures caused the cork to pop off one of the bottles, and a diver decided to take a swig. He expected to taste seawater that had seeped into the bottle over the last 200 years — which raises very legitimate questions about just why he decided to take a sip in the first place — but was shocked to discover the wine still tasted fine.

H/T to Never Yet Melted, for linking to a story from 2010.

April 20, 2015

Twice-nuked aircraft carrier sunk 80 km from San Francisco

Filed under: History,Military,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

If you’d ever wondered what happened to the ships that were used in the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, here’s one that might surprise you:

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The Independence (CVL-22) was commissioned as cruiser, but adapted to become a light carrier as the demands of the Pacific war made mobile air power desirable. The ship served in the Pacific from November 1943 to August 1945, but by 1946 was deemed fit for duty as a test vessel at an atomic bomb test near Bikini Atoll. Independence was stationed less than half a mile from ground zero on a July 1st test, survived that ordeal without sinking so was nuked again on the 25th.

The US Navy then brought the vessel back to San Francisco to assess the damage, and to try nuclear decontamination techniques. By 1951 Independence was felt to be at risk of sinking, so with a colossal radioactive carcass not the sort of thing one wants near a major city it was sunk.

And so the Independence passed into history, its fate largely forgotten … until the NOAA decided to embark on a mission to “to locate, map and study historic shipwrecks in Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.” As part of that effort, Independence was found “in 2,600 feet of water off California’s Farallon Islands”, which one can find here, at what looks to be a distance of about 80kms from San Francisco.

February 12, 2015

World War II Relics: Juno Beach

Filed under: Cancon,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Feb 2015

National Geographic television series The Sea Hunters Relics exploring the history of World War II Juno Beach.

January 11, 2015

6th century Sicilian shipwreck yields 39 ingots of orichalcum

Filed under: Europe,History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I’d only ever encountered mentions of orichalcum as a rare metal in Guild Wars 2, but it was a real thing, and an underwater archaeology team found 39 ingots of orichalcum just off the coast of Sicily near Gela:

Gleaming cast metal called orichalcum, which was said by Ancient Greeks to be found in Atlantis, has been recovered from a ship that sunk 2,600 years ago off the coast of Sicily.

The lumps of metal were arriving to Gela in southern Sicily, possibly coming from Greece or Asia Minor. The ship that was carrying them was likely caught in a storm and sunk just when it was about to enter the port.

“The wreck dates to the first half of the sixth century,” Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, told Discovery News. “It was found about 1,000 feet from Gela’s coast at a depth of 10 feet.”

He noted that the 39 ingots found on the sandy sea floor represent a unique finding.

“Nothing similar has ever been found,” Tusa said. “We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects.”

Indeed orichalcum has long been considered a mysterious metal, its composition and origin widely debated.

According to the ancient Greeks, it was invented by Cadmus, a Greek-Phoenician mythological character. The fourth century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato made orichalcum a legendary metal when he mentioned it in the Critias dialogue.

May 19, 2014

South Korean coast guard to be “dismantled” after ferry disaster

Filed under: Asia,Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:53

K.J. Kwon, Paula Hancocks and Jethro Mullen report for CNN:

South Korea’s President made an emotional apology Monday over the ferry disaster that killed close to 300 people last month and said she would dismantle the country’s coast guard.

“As the President who should be responsible for people’s life and security, I am sincerely apologizing to the people for having to suffer pain,” said President Park Geun-hye in a televised speech. “The final responsibility for not being able to respond properly lies on me.”

The Sewol ferry sank en route to the resort island of Jeju on April 16, leaving more than 304 people dead or missing. Most of the passengers were high school students on a field trip.

“As a President, I feel a sense of sorrow for not being able to protect them during their family trip,” said Park, whose approval ratings have dropped significantly in the weeks since the sinking.

The Sewol disaster caused widespread outrage in South Korea over lax safety standards and the failure to rescue more people as the ship foundered.

[…]

“After serious consideration, I’ve decided to dismantle the coast guard,” Park said. “The investigation and information roles will be transferred to the police while the rescue and salvage operation and ocean security roles will be transferred to the department for national safety which will be newly established.”

October 23, 2013

The most dangerous shipwreck in the Thames Estuary

Filed under: Britain,History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:45

Uploaded on 16 Aug 2010

A documentary about the SS Richard Montgomery. The remains of this second world war Liberty ship lie semi-submerged in the Thames estuary. There are currently over 1500 tons of explosives left on board. This documentary looks into the danger the wreck still presents.

I’m mildly amused that they frequently mis-name the vessel as the “USS” Richard Montgomery (she was never a commissioned ship of the US Navy, so it should be just “SS” not “USS”). If you watch to the end of the documentary, they’ve included a “blooper reel” of voice-overs for the last minute or so…

August 17, 2013

Delays in India’s submarine program

Filed under: India,Military,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:21

In the Times of India, Rajat Pandit reviews the state of the Indian Navy’s submarine fleet:

Is India’s aging fleet of conventional submarines threatening to go the MiG-21 way? The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), already 30 years in the making, was slated to replace the obsolete MiG-21 in the 1990s but is still at least two years away from becoming fully-operational.

Similarly, the Navy too was to induct 12 new diesel-electric submarines by last year, with another dozen to follow in the 2012-2030 timeframe. This was the 30-year submarine building plan approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) way back in July, 1999. But the Navy has not inducted even one of the 24 planned submarines till now, and is forced to soldier on with just 14 aging conventional vessels.

“The Navy is steadily modernizing in the surface warship and aircraft arenas. But our aging and depleting underwater combat arm is a big worry. But it also must be kept in mind that INS Sindhurakshak‘s accident is the first such incident we have had in over four decades of operating submarines,” said a senior officer.

Sources said INS Sindhurakshak, after Wednesday’s accident, is “a clear write-off”. Of the 13 submarines left now, as many as 11 are over 20 years old. The setback comes when China and Pakistan are systematically bolstering their underwater combat capabilities, with the former being armed with over 55 submarines.

Update: MarineLink reports on the investigation into the INS Sindhurakshak explosion.

The Indian Navy diving teams have been working nonstop to reach into the compartments of the submarine since rescue operations commenced early noon of August 14. The boiling waters inside the submarine prevented any entry until noon that day. Access to the inner compartments of the submarine was made almost impossible due to jammed doors and hatches, distorted ladders, oily and muddy waters inside the submerged submarine resulting in total darkness and nil visibility within the submarine even with high power underwater lamps. Distorted and twisted metal within very restricted space due extensive internal damage caused by the explosion further worsened conditions for the divers. This resulted in very slow and labored progress. Only one diver could work at a time to clear the path to gain access. After 36 hours of continuous diving effort in these conditions, Navy divers have finally reached the second compartment behind the conning tower in the early hours of August 16.

Three bodies have been located and extricated from the submarine from this compartment. The bodies are severely disfigured and not identifiable due to severe burns. The bodies have been sent to INHS Asvini, the naval hospital, for possible DNA identification which is likely to take some more time.

The state of these two bodies and conditions within the submarine leads to firm conclusion that finding any surviving personnel within the submarine is unlikely.

August 14, 2013

Fatal explosion on Indian submarine

Filed under: India,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:21

A report from FirstPost.India on the worst naval disaster in Indian history:

The Indian Navy suffered a huge blow Wednesday when a frontline submarine exploded and sank here at dawn with 18 sailors after two explosions turned it into a deadly ball of fire.

The deep sea attack vessel INS Sindhurakshak, recently refurbished in Russia, suffered an unexplained explosion just after Tuesday midnight and an immediate deafening blast heard almost in the whole of south Mumbai.

Naval officials said the rapid spread of the blaze and the intensity of the explosions left the trapped 18 sailors, including three officers, with apparently no chance of escaping.

“We cannot rule out sabotage,” navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi told the media after Defence Minister A.K. Antony visited the disaster site at the Mumbai naval dock.

“But indications at this point do not support the (sabotage) theory,” he said. “At this point of time we are unable to put a finger on what exactly could have gone wrong.”

An inquiry set up to probe the disaster will submit its report within four weeks.

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The most recent update to the Wikipedia page says:

On 14 August 2013, the Sindhurakshak sank after explosions caused by a fire took place onboard when the submarine was docked at Mumbai. The fire, followed by a series of ordnance blasts on the armed submarine, occurred shortly after midnight. The fire was put out within two hours. It is unclear exactly what caused the fire. Due to damage from the explosions, the submarine sank at its berth with only a portion visible above the water surface.[10][14][15] Sailors on board reportedly jumped off to safety. Navy divers were also brought in as there was a possibility that 18 personnel were trapped inside. India’s defence minister confirmed that there were fatalities.[6]

Due to the explosion, the front section of the submarine was twisted, bent and crumpled, and water had entered the forward compartment. Another submarine, INS Sindhuratna, also sustained minor damage when the fire on Sindhurakshak caused its torpedoes to explode.[14][16] Defence minister A. K. Antony briefed the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the submarine incident, and would leave for Mumbai to visit the accident site.[17][18]

Official sources said it was “highly unlikely” the submarine could be returned to service.[19]

February 1, 2013

USS Guardian to be dismantled in place after grounding on coral reef

Filed under: Environment,Military,Pacific,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The US Navy has decided that the best course of action is to break up the minesweeper USS Guardian after it ran solidly aground on a coral reef in the Sulu Sea:

USS Guardian aground in the Sulu Sea January 2013

“We’re working very closely with the Philippine coast guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We’ve been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” James said.

It’s expected to take over a month to dismantle the Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.

Crews have already removed 15,000 gallons of fuel from the ship. They’ve also taken off hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil and paint. They’ll be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.

The U.S. Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the removal. A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days.

The Navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard. But now the Navy says the ship is “beyond economical repair.”

No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park. The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.

Update, 8 February: A bit more information about the salvage operations which are supposed to have started on February 4th.

May 19, 2012

Salvage operation on Costa Concordia to cost more than £200 million

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:45

The Telegraph headline says £200 million, but the scrap value of the vessel must be much lower than that:

The operation is due to start in the next few days and is expected to take a year, with the battered ship to be towed to an Italian port in one piece and then dismantled for scrap.

“This is the largest ship removal by weight in history,” said Richard Habib, the president of Titan Salvage, the American company that has been given the job of raising the 1,000ft-long, 114,500 tonne cruise liner.

“The magnitude of the job is unprecedented. But we feel confident that we can do it and do it safely, with the least disturbance to the environment and the economy of Giglio.” The Concordia has been wedged on rocks and semi-submerged just a few yards from the coast of Giglio, an island off Tuscany, ever since it ran aground on the night of Jan 13.

[. . .]

The two companies’ plan for removing the wreck involves extracting the huge chunk of rock embedded in its side and patching up the torn hull.

Engineers and divers will then construct an underwater platform beneath the ship.

They will also fix steel compartments or ‘caissons’ to the side of the ship that is out of the water.

Two cranes will slowly pull the ship upright so that it rests on the submerged platform.

The caissons will be filled with water to help the cranes lift the massive weight of the ship.

Once the vessel is upright, more chambers will be attached to the other side of the hull.

All the caissons will then be emptied of water and filled with air, which will stabilise the ship in preparation for it being towed to a nearby port for demolition.

January 23, 2012

Raising the wreck of the earlier HMS Victory

Filed under: Britain,History,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The famous British warship HMS Victory preserved in Portsmouth was built to replace an earlier ship lost in a storm in 1744:

The remains of a 300-year-old warship are to be raised from the sea bed, according to reports.

The wreck of HMS Victory, a predecessor of Nelson’s famous flagship, was found near the Channel Islands in 2008.

The British warship, which went down in a storm in 1744 killing more than 1,000 sailors, could contain gold coins worth an estimated £500m.

The Sunday Times says the Maritime Heritage Foundation is set to manage the wreck’s raising.

It also reports that the charity will employ Odyssey Marine Exploration to carry out the recovery.

The American company found the ship four years ago, with the ship’s identity confirmed by a bronze cannon.

January 21, 2012

The Birkenhead drill

Filed under: History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:55

Mark Steyn’s latest column in the Orange County Register contrasts the behaviour of the crew of the Costa Concordia with that of the crew (and male passengers) of the RMS Titanic:

In the centenary year of the most famous of all maritime disasters, we would do well to consider honestly the tale of the Titanic. [. . .]

On the Titanic, the male passengers gave their lives for the women and would never have considered doing otherwise. On the Costa Concordia, in the words of a female passenger, “There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboat.” After similar scenes on the MV Estonia a few years ago, Roger Kohen of the International Maritime Organization told Time magazine: “There is no law that says women and children first. That is something from the age of chivalry.”

If, by “the age of chivalry,” you mean our great-grandparents’ time.

In fact, “women and children first” can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship’s cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. As Kipling wrote:

    We’re most of us liars, we’re ‘arf of us thieves, an’ the rest of us rank as can be,
    But once in a while we can finish in style (which I ‘ope it won’t ‘appen to me).

Sixty years later, the men on the Titanic — liars and thieves, wealthy and powerful, poor and obscure — found themselves called upon to “finish in style,” and did so. They had barely an hour to kiss their wives goodbye, watch them clamber into the lifeboats, and sail off without them. They, too, ‘ope’d it wouldn’t ‘appen to them, but, when it did, the social norm of “women and children first” held up under pressure and across all classes.

Today there is no social norm, so it’s every man for himself — operative word “man,” although not many of the chaps on the Titanic would recognize those on the Costa Concordia as “men.”

January 17, 2012

The media angle on the Costa Concordia wreck

Filed under: Europe,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

Tim Black points out the most common media memes about the Costa Concordia have much more to do with snobbery and disdain than with human interest or concern about the actual causes of the shipwreck:

The sequence of events that led to the sinking of the luxury cruise liner, the Costa Concordia, is now pretty much established. But facts have not got in the way of a variety of commentators who are using the accident to parade their prejudices about too-big ships and ignorant passengers.

[. . .]

These are the tragic facts so far. What no one knows exactly is why it happened. Explanations have been mooted, of course: a power blackout affecting the ship’s steering; inaccurate navigation charts failing to show the rocks; or human error, in particular by the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino. Yet while the exact reason for the ship straying off course remains unclear, that has not stopped another object of blame coming to the fore in some of the coverage. That is, the real, underlying reason for the Costa Concordia accident is to be sought not in the actual events of Friday evening but rather in the profit-driven, build-‘em-high cruise industry and, by association, in the sea-faring ignorance of all those who sailed aboard her.

This is why so much of the coverage seems obsessed with the size of the Costa Concordia. Over the past few days, we have been repeatedly told that cruise ships have doubled in size over the past decade. While this is true — and as the twenty-sixth-largest liner in the world, the Costa Concordia is far from the most impressive of this new breed of ships — the Concordia’s size does not actually tell us why it was three miles off course. Nor does it explain why the ship’s crew was unaware of the rock outcrop despite having navigation equipment. Yes, perhaps ship size does affect manoeuvrability, but would a smaller vessel not have suffered a similar fate that befell the Concordia? In fact, the obsession with the ship’s size sheds very little light on what happened to the Concordia on Friday evening.

What the convenient obsession with size draws upon, rather, is an antipathy towards the cruise industry, a sense that it is little more than the ocean-going equivalent of that other right-thinking person’s bête noire, Dubai. In other words, a vulgar testament to profit and sky-high consumption. So although size here is not really relevant as a cause of the Concordia’s capsizing, it appears relevant to certain commentators as a symbol of commercial hubris, of complacent materialism.

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