508 Thirty-Six Hours

What’s recorded?  The time of the dispatcher hitting the button or the actual switching of the iron pieces …

Summary: The FBI investigates whether a passenger train accident is really an accident or an act of terrorism.

Original air date: November 21, 2008 (US)

Written by: Julie Hebert

Directed by: Rod Holcomb

Opening numbers:

1.77: Trillion revenue ton-miles
1.8: Million carloads of hazardous material
3000: Railroad stations
1.5: Miles to stop

Family Concepts: (character development)

  • Continuity note: This episode was originally #504, as such Charlie is wearing an LAPD badge instead of an FBI one due to his clearance being revoked.
  • Don isn’t sure he still able to make a difference with the FBI.

Episode Quotes:

  • David: I don’t know how to get out of here.
    Colby: Don’t worry I left us breadcrumbs.
  • Charlie: You killed my bots, man.
    Colby: Well they all deserve purple hearts. Put badges on the next ones.

Episode Synopsis:

After a long stakeout and successful bust, Don’s team is looking forward to a couple days off.  However NTSB has called in the FBI to assist with the derailment and subsequent crash of a freight train carrying hazardous waste and a passenger train.  Don is looking into all possibilities as to why the freight train may have derailed, including terrorism.  Colby and David work to rescue as many people as possible.  Most of the passengers still alive have been pulled out of the pile of wreckage however there are still six people trapped when word comes down there is a toxic leak into the debris pile.

Charlie as a group of robots he has programmed to work cooperatively that he thinks can assist with mapping the debris pile and find safe routes to rescue the trapped passengers. When he sees the wreckage, Charlie isn’t sure exactly how much help the bots will be, but any effort to save the remaining people should be tried.  Amita starts working through the railroad’s logs and computer files to piece together what exactly happened. And Nikki wants to talk to the follow up on the terrorism idea, especially when she finds out the engineer of the freight train was of Syrian descent.  Don and Amita are able to quickly dispel the idea of terrorism, but that still leaves the question of what happened to cause the freight train to derail.

David is able to get into the wreckage and pull out Estella Ramirez.  She is the wife, now widow, of the engineer for the passenger train and was traveling with her son William.  Estella is able to reach William on the boy’s cell phone.  William and Jeffery Knight, a steward for the train are close to one another and both are still alive.  William, an asthmatic is having problems breathing due to his asthma and the added problem of the fumes from the toxic leak.  Colby finds the phone number for another one of the passengers, Doug Abbott who is also still alive.  Unfortunately, Doug tries to  move some of the debris to dig himself out and is killed, along with his girlfriend when the pile collapses on both of them.  This only leaves William and Jeffery still alive.

While Charlie works to get his remaining bots to finish a map of the debris pile, Amita discovers a switching error that may have caused the freight train to derail.  In order to switch a track, a dispatcher has to send two commands to the switching station. The first command is sent well in advance of the freight train, however the second command isn’t sent until the train has already derailed.  Don talks to the dispatcher, James Malin, and realizes the man works two jobs and due to his wife being sick hasn’t slept in a week.  Malin swears he thought both commands had been sent before leaving his post to keep himself awake.  He didn’t realize until he came back, what had happened.  The dispatchers used to work in pairs, but recent cut backs in staffing means there is now only one man on duty at a time.

David is tired of waiting for Charlie and his bots to map the debris pile. William and Jeffery are slowly dying from chemical poisoning and David goes into the pile without a complete map.  David manages to get so far into the pile before more debris collapses, but now he doesn’t know how to get out again and the toxicity of the air is increasing as well.  Charlie suggests where a hole could be cut to gain entry and Colby goes into the pile to get David and the others out.  Eventually Colby and David are able to pull William and Jeffery, both alive, from the pile.

Charlie figures out that even with the switching error, something else had to have gone wrong.  Trains run on math and with the speed and braking power applied by the freight train’s engineer, the train should have been able to stop in time.  The only thing Charlie can figure is the train was carrying more weight than the engineer knew about and as a result, the train was unable to stop in time, causing it to derail. Don and Nikki arrest Richard Cory, the owner of the freight line on charges of over loading the train in order to undercut on bids.