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Last year’s Amtrak derailment on December 18th in Washington state has been deemed a speeding accident by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). According to a preliminary report released at the beginning of January, the Amtrak Cascades train approached a curve going too fast and the accident could have been prevented if positive train control (PTC) technology had been fully activated on that stretch of track.
PTC automatically activates the brakes on trains in situations where the train is traveling too fast. The technology was already mandated by Congress in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008. The legislation gave railroads until the end of 2015 to install PTC. However, Congress extended the deadline to December 2018 after heavy lobbying from a railroad industry that said more time was needed to implement such complex technology.
The PTC system is comprised of GPS, digital radio communications, and wayside signal systems that transmit a continuous stream of data about train speed, location, and direction. Using this data, PTC can prevent train-to-train collisions and derailments due to speeding. It can also identify and stop trains that have switched to the wrong track or mistakenly entered a work zone.
Installing PTC is a lengthy process that involves equipping locomotives and track segments, installing radio towers and back office servers, acquiring spectrum, training employees in using the system, and submitting safety plans to the Federal Railroad Administration for review and approval. Only a few regional railroad operators have been able to accomplish this feat in total.
The Washington derailment echoes other recent train crashes such as the one in September 2016 in Hoboken, NJ that sent a NJ transit train into crowds at rush hour, and the May 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. Excessive speed was a factor in all three train accidents.
Although following the December accident, the U.S. Transportation Secretary urged railroads to install PTC by the deadline, lawmakers demanded that the Department of Transportation be stricter about compliance and introduced legislation to prevent railroads from getting further extensions on the deadline. The bill, Positive Train Control Implementation and Financing Act, would also provide approximately $2.5 billion in grants to help commuter and intercity passenger railroads install PTC systems.
Those injured in the Washington derailment and families of people who died are likely to bring claims of negligence and wrongful death against Amtrak. But the issue of who is responsible for the federally-mandated implementation of PTC is a complex one. The track where the derailment occurred is owned by Sound Transit, a Seattle public transit agency. The passenger rail service route is operated by Amtrak, but the trains were owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Sound Transit had already installed PTC along the corridor, but it was not yet active at the time of the accident. As a common carrier, Amtrak has a duty to provide safe transport to those in its care. Recovering compensation for victims will require experienced and knowledgeable train accident lawyers that will investigate and hold all responsible parties accountable.
The skilled Delaware train accident lawyers at Rhoades & Morrow will fight on your behalf to recover the maximum allowable compensation for injuries suffered in a train crash. Call our Wilmington office at 302-427-9500, our Bear office at 302-834-8484, or our Milford office at 302-422-6705 to schedule a free review of your case or contact us online. We represent injured workers and personal injury victims throughout Delaware.