Fatal Amtrak Train Crash Could Have Been Prevented by Positive Train Control

Amtrak Crash: Train Accelerated Before Derailment

PHOTO: Emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train wreck, May 13 – visit article

The fatal tragedy occurred mere hours prior to the time the House was set to consider a Bill to slash Passenger Rail Service’s budget. Yet, even as workers cleared the wreckage, the House voted 30-2 to cut grants to Amtrak by $252 million. They did note, however, that the cut in funding would only apply to Amtrak’s capital spending and NOT to funding levels for safety and operations.

The tragic accident involving Amtrak train 188 is likely to exert a heavy influence on safety and funding debates in Washington, which were triggered by a recent flurry of major passenger rail accidents. This latest train wreck tragedy may also add to the current debate regarding delays in implementing Positive Train Control, a cutting edge anti-collision technology.

Was Speed the Reason?

It is expected that many questions associated with the Amtrak Regional 188 derailment will be answered in the coming days and weeks. However, at this point, investigators are seriously considering speed as the main factor in the crash. Federal regulators limit the speed of trains on various tracks. Passenger trains are limited to 59 mph on tracks without block signal systems. The black box data indicated that the 188 train was traveling at speeds of over 100 mph when the crash occurred. Even worse, it seems that the driver actually sped up in the final minute before the crash.

Amtrak Train Derails in North Carolina

PHOTO: A train crash in Halifax County, North Carolina, March 9, 2015 – visit article

The analyzed surveillance video showed that, in the final minutes before the fatal crash, the engineer, sped up from 70 mph to 107 mph as it approached the dangerous curve in the track. The speed limit on the curved section of track, known as Frankford Junction, is just 50 mph, and the straightaway speed limit is only 70 mph. By the time the train’s engineer attempted to apply the brakes, it was already too late.

Would Positive Train Control Have Prevented this Deadly Accident?

The National Transportation Safety Board believes that positive train control could have prevented this deadly train accident from occurring. Positive train control is a technological system that combines GPS, wireless radio, and computers to help assist trains as they travel across the United States. This technology can actually stop trains from colliding, derailing, and even speeding. If the train is not operating appropriately, such as approaching a dangerous curve at too high a speed, the technology will actually slow down the train or stop it completely. It was specifically designed to prevent the human errors that cause 40% of all train accidents in this country. The National Safety Transportation Board has said that, since 2004, at least 25 train accidents, 1,100 injuries, and 65 deaths could have been prevented using this technology.

So why wasn’t it installed already?

This is the billion-dollar question – literally. The system is expensive to install and train safety only gets a certain percentage of federal and state funding. The technology costs billions, which is why the railroad industry has resisted installing this technology in the past. Yet, Congress has ordered that railroads adopt and implement positive train control by December 2015. This order came directly after a deadly 2008 accident in Los Angeles left 25 people dead. Unfortunately, it does not look like railroads will meet this deadline.

Amtrak CEO, Jeo Boardman, has said that he is “committed to meeting the requirements of positive train control technology” and that it will happen on this section of track by the end of the year.

Passenger Rail Accidents on the Upswing

Passenger rail accidents have been in the news frequently this year. A rush-hour collision between a commuter train and an SUV killed six people in Valhalla, New York, an Amtrak train crashed into a tractor-trailer in North Carolina, injuring 62 people, and a train crashed into a truck in Oxnard, California, killing the engineer and injuring more.

Railroad fatalities in general have increased over the past year; 813 deaths were attributed to railway accidents in 2014, an increase of 20% from three years ago. Former Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, said this latest tragedy is a part of what he calls a “crisis in infrastructure.”

Contact Our Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers

At McLaughlin & Lauricella, P.C., our thoughts are with the victims of this tragic train accident, and we offer our most sincere condolences to the families who have suffered the loss of a loved one in the horrific train accident.

The personal injury attorneys at McLaughlin & Lauricella, P.C., have over 68 years experience representing injured accident victims and their families across Philadelphia, Berks, Bucks, Dauphin, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery, and Northampton counties. We are also proud to serve injured accident victims throughout the State of New Jersey. Contact us today at 215-568-1510 or fill out our confidential contact form to learn more about your legal options.

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