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On December 18th, An Amtrak train, traveling from Seattle to Portland, derailed in DuPont, Washington. Thirteen cars jumped the tracks, several of which fell over the side of an overpass and onto the highway below, damaging five different vehicles. Around 100 people sustained injuries, and three fatalities have been reported thus far.
The Amtrak Cascades 501 train was traveling about 80 mph when it came into the turn – an eerily similar scenario to the 2015 Amtrak 188 crash in Philadelphia. That derailment left eight people dead.
The initial shock of the derailment is still being processed, and the injured may still be tending to their wounds. The families of the victims may be in the midst of planning funerals. The entire situation is awful – and entirely preventable.
Failure to uphold the laws left three people dead
In 2008, a head-on train crash in California killed 25 people. In response to the tragedy, Congress mandated that all passenger railroads implement positive train control (PTC) safety systems by December 31, 2015. PTC, in brief, can slow down a speeding train automatically, if it senses that the train is moving too quickly. Had it been implemented the way the law required, Amtrak 501 would not have been able to hit a 30 mph curve at 80 mph; it would have automatically slowed down, to take the curve at a safer speed.
Instead, Congress kotowed to the railroads, extending the deadlines. As one survivor of the Philadelphia crash explained in an op-ed for the Washington Post, “Railroads complained about the costs and threatened not to run their trains unless Congress pushed the deadline to 2018. Congress caved completely, allowing railroads to defer PTC without penalty. Congress even allowed an additional loophole: If railroads ‘showed progress,’ they didn’t have to start using PTC until 2020.”
Amtrak has installed PTC systems in its Northeast corridor, which runs from Boston to DC, but not on other commuter rail lines. The delay, in part, is caused by who uses the lines. Amtrak travels on some of the same rail lines as freighter trains – and freight rail companies, as the New York Times explains, don’t necessarily see the benefit in installing the systems. (It is also safe to assume they would prefer not to have to pay for any costs associated with it, either.)
Furthermore, the rails themselves are owned by different regional transit authorities. When the Times tried to get a full answer from Sound Transit (which owns the track Amtrak 501 was traveling), the reporters were referred to Amtrak and Washington’s Department of Transportation. When the reporters called Amtrak, they were told to call Sound Transit. No one wants to take accountability for yet another deadly-but-preventable crash.
Adding insult to literal injury
There is another problem for victims of the crash, as well. In 1997, Congress decided that all Amtrak claims would be capped at $200 million. That number was revised in 2015, to $295 million, after the Philadelphia derailment – but as the writer for the Post explained:
“that was far from sufficient to compensate the eight families who lost loved ones and the 200 passengers who suffered life-changing injuries. Amtrak ended up paying only a fraction of the damage it had inflicted. The victims ended up bearing a large part of their own medical costs and lost wages. Meanwhile, Amtrak’s chief executive — who ran what the NTSB described as a railroad lacking a ‘safety culture’ for eight years — retired without so much as a slap on the wrist.”
It is no longer enough to pass legislation; our Congress must fully enforce it, and force the railroads to implement the federally-mandated safety systems. Amtrak cannot be allowed to continue in its current path, putting its own profits ahead of the safety of its passengers. No matter who is responsible for paying for the PCT systems, this latest loss of life falls squarely on Amtrak’s shoulders.
Crandall & Pera Law is a premier personal injury and medical malpractice law firm serving clients throughout Ohio and Kentucky. If you sustained an injury because of an act of negligence, we may be able to help. Please call our Kentucky lawyers at 877-686-8879, our Ohio lawyers at 877-686-8879, or use our contact form to make an appointment.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]