A fatal Amtrak train crash just before Christmas in Washington State followed by a South Carolina wreck in February led officials and others to ask how safe are Amtrak trains.
A passenger train careened off a bridge outside Tacoma, Washington, in December killing three people. Dozens were injured. The train was traveling at 80 mph on a 30-mph stretch of track, federal investigators later revealed.
In February, an Amtrak passenger train was wrongly diverted to a side track and hit an unmanned freight train near Columbia in South Carolina, killing two Amtrak employees and injuring 116 people on board, federal officials said.
Amtrak Train 91 was traveling early one Sunday morning. It should have continued down the tracks, but the rail switch had been manually set to divert the train onto the rack where the CSX train was standing, according to National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
National Transportation Safety Board member Bella Dinh-Zarr told the media after the Washington crash that Train 501 of Amtrak’s Cascades service was speeding into the curve. The train was traveling from Seattle headed south to Portland, Oregon. It was carrying 80 passengers, three crew and two service personnel. She said:
“We were glad that we were able to get the data from the event data recorder from the rear locomotive. The front locomotive as you can imagine is a bit more difficult to access.”
The accidents renewed the question of how safe are Amtrak trains. An article in The Atlantic noted derailments along train lines in the United States are common.
From January through September 2017, there were nearly 900. However, they are seldom catastrophic or fatal.
Most of the accidents on passenger services have been on commuter lines rather than Amtrak lines.
The most serious Amtrak wreck in recent years occurred in May 2015, when Amtrak 188 derailed in Philadelphia. The crash was also caused by excess speed on a curve. It led to eight deaths.
Trains are considerably safer than many other forms of transportation. People who die in accidents involving trains are most likely to be motorists at crossings or pedestrians.
The Washington and South Carolina crases highlighted Positive Train Control (PTC), an expensive new safety system that’s intended to eliminate crashes of this nature.
This technological fail-safe for is intended to avoid derailments and collisions. The train that crashed in Washington had PTC but it was not operational.
Back in 2008, Congress mandated PTC to be implemented for all passenger, commuter, and trains carrying hazardous materials by the end of 2015. Pressure from the railroads pushed it back until the end of 2018.
Amtrak said PTC was not in effect on the stretch of track where Amtrak 501 derailed.
Many trains operate in Georgia where there are thousands of rural railroad crossings. Every year, people are injured and killed by trains. If you have been hurt in an accident, please call The Law Office of Michael West at (404) 913-1529.