This week’s Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia is a tragedy, as is the decades-long failure of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Amtrak to provide safe, positively controlled rail transportation to patrons across the county, particularly in the Northeast region. As the NTSB and its parties continue to sort through the rubble and uncover what caused this horrific event Tuesday evening, one thing that appears reasonably clear is that the passengers aboard this speeding train, those who paid for their tickets in return for the reasonable expectation of a safe passage, were the victims of gross negligence. While this negligence is likely attributable to the train’s engineer in part, there may also be blame to spread amongst the FRA and Amtrak for their failure to require and implement Positive Train Control (PTC) in some fashion throughout the track on which Amtrak operates. The NTSB has made PTC recommendations for decades, in part because this is not the first time Amtrak engineers have more than doubled the posted speed limit in a curve and caused derailments with hundreds of injuries.
On December 12, 1990, an Amtrak train derailed after speeding in a curve at Boston’s Back Bay, injuring hundreds, closing the track for weeks, and causing millions in track and other infrastructure damage. Despite Amtrak’s attempts to intentionally erase the event recorder data from that locomotive, the NTSB recovered the data and found that the engineer was operating the train at more than double the speed limit, causing it to derail. Initial investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board into this Philadelphia Amtrak accident reveal that the passenger train attempted to circumvent a curve in the tracks at 106 mph, more than double the speed limit of 50 mph. In fact, the train should have never even approached speeds of 100 mph, as the speed limit of the strip of track immediately before the curve was only 80 mph. The result is that eight passengers have died and hundreds more were injured and transported to hospitals. This is unacceptable. FRA and Amtrak should have long learned their lesson from the 1990 Back Bay crash and implemented PTC throughout Amtrak territory.
Amtrak serves more than 30 million people annually – once again the safety of their operation and commitment to PTC and accident prevention has been called into serious doubt. Amtrak is now saying it will look to implement PTC to prevent such accidents but after 25 years of reason and opportunity to do so, without fulfillment, they will likely pay dearly in reputation, trust, and tort settlements for this crash and the pain and suffering it has heaped on its passengers and their families.
I served as Co-Lead Counsel in the litigation involving the crash of an Amtrak train in Bourbonnais, Illinois, among other railway accidents. In order for the victims of this crash and their families to sort through this complicated morass that is certain to play out in America’s legal justice system, they need to think carefully about how to protect themselves as well as other future passengers, making a clear statement that this type of conduct will no longer be tolerated and together they can become a strong voice for change, real change, that will help make other travelers safer in the future.
Kevin P. Durkin is a partner at Clifford Law Offices, a national recognized personal injury and wrongful death firm that concentrates in transportation litigation. To learn more about Durkin’s experience as well as the transportation team of attorneys at the Chicago-based firm, please visit www.CliffordLaw.com
Durkin is available to speak to the press on the legal ramifications of the Amtrak derailment and train crash liability and how that litigation plays out in the courts against various defendants.
To reach Durkin for an interview, contact Clifford Law Offices’ Communications Partner Pamela Sakowicz Menaker at 847-721-0909 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com www.CliffordLaw.com