In December, an Amtrak train from Portland, Oregon derailed off a bridge outside of Tacoma, Washington, killing 3 victims and injuring over 60 others. In the wake of the tragic crash, initial investigations have showed that the train was traveling nearly 50 miles per hour over the speed limit when the incident happened – a discovery many safety advocates say should never happen with the advent of new technology and policies.
In recent years, train accidents like the Washington Amtrak derailment have happened frequently across the U.S., often with devastating results. This includes a 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed 8 victims and injured more than 200 passengers, and a Metrolink collision in Chatsworth, California that resulted in 25 deaths and 135 injuries. In both of these crashes, engineers had become distracted. Federal officials also stated they could and should have been prevented.
Due to the large-scale impact of train accidents, the recent Washington state crash has renewed concerns over railroad safety, many of which have been voiced by families, advocates, and federal regulators for years. Some of the most notable issues include:
- Positive Train Control – The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency tasked with investigating train accidents, has recommended the implementation of positive train control (PTC) on U.S. railways since 1970. PTC is speed-limiting technology that can slow or stop trains automatically when they are traveling too fast, or when there is a collision critical situation. Many safety experts claim the Washington state crash could have been avoided had PTC been installed on the newly opened rail line, as it could have slowed the speeding train prior to its reaching the curve where it derailed. The NTSB also formally stated the 2015 Philadelphia Amtrak crash would have been prevented by positive train control.
- Distraction – Although we tend to think of distraction as a problem exclusive to drivers and motor vehicles, engineer distraction has played a major role in causing a number of deadly accidents. In the 2008 Chatsworth crash, investigators discovered the engineer ran through a red signal as a result of being distracted by text messages. The Philadelphia crash was caused by the engineer becoming distracted by other radio transmissions, thereby allowing the train to travel more than 100 mph in a 50 mph zone. Although investigations into the recent Washington state derailment are still ongoing, investigators have stated they will be looking into distraction as a potential factor behind the train’s excessive speed.
- Politics – Politicization of railway safety issues has been a major factor behind sluggish implementation of new technology and standards proven to save lives. Although the NTSB has recommended positive train control for nearly 50 years, aggressive lobbying by railroads and corporations in the rail industry has pushed back deadlines for installing the technology. When it comes to lives, many advocates say, the issue should not be one of politics, but a priority for federal authorities and the entire industry.
After the same types of issues continue to cause devastating train accidents, many believe it is time to prioritize new standards and policies that can protect public safety, and prevent the same types of tragedies from harming other victims and families in the future. Unfortunately, budgetary issues, technical hurdles, and bureaucratic red tape have hindered the progression of railway safety, even after numerous preventable crashes. A new Presidential administration that favors regulatory rollbacks has also been seen as hurdle.
With little control over how carriers, lawmakers, and others in the train industry work to implement safety changes, victims of train accidents are often left with having to assert their rights and raise awareness after damage has already been done. Through civil lawsuits, injured victims and families who have lost loved ones can make their voices heard not only to hold negligent train operators accountable for failing to make safety a priority, but also compel much needed change.
Shrager & Sachs is an award-winning Philadelphia personal injury and medical malpractice law firm that has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation on behalf of clients – including victims and families harmed in preventable collisions. If you have questions about your rights after a train accident,motor vehicle crash, or any other transportation accident, our attorneys are available to help you navigate the legal system and pursue the financial compensation you deserve. Contact us to request a free review of your case.