Could Positive Train Control Have Prevented the Amtrak Crash?

A recent spate of train accidents—including a crash on February 4 where an Amtrak passenger train collided with a parked freight train in Cayce, South Carolina, killing two people and injuring over 100 passengers—is highlighting the issue of railway safety. The February accident is just the latest in a string of accidents for Amtrak.

Over the past few years, Amtrak has had its fair share of train accidents, causing fatalities and injuries.

  • May 12, 2015: A train killed eight passengers and injured hundreds when it derailed after traveling 106mph into a 50mph curve. An investigation found the engineer had lost awareness of where he was on the route.
  • April 3, 2016: A train traveling nearly 100mph near Philadelphia, PA slammed into a backhoe working on the track, killing two workers and injuring 39 train passengers. Investigators discovered safety and communications errors, including a failure to notify trains that the track was closed.
  • Dec. 18, 2017: A train derailed in DuPont, WA after traveling 80mph into a curve. Three passengers were killed and dozens were injured.
  • Jan. 31, 2018: A train collided with a garbage truck at a railroad crossing in Crozet, VA, killing the truck driver. The crossing had crossbars and warning lights.
  • Feb. 4, 2018: In the most recent Amtrak accident, a train collided with a CSX freight train parked on a side track in SC, killing the engineer and conductor. So far, the investigators have found that a switch was manually locked to divert the Amtrak train to the side track and toward the parked train. Work crews were in the middle of updating braking technology on the tracks when the accident occurred.

Fast facts about positive train control

Positive train control (PTC) is a technology system designed to prevent excessive speed, avoid collisions, and make up for other human errors. It combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or speeding. PTC systems know the location of all trains and the positions of all switches in a certain area and are designed to prevent two trains from traveling on the same track at the same time—which would likely have prevented the fatal accident in South Carolina.

So why isn’t PTC installed nationwide? Interestingly enough, in 2008 Congress mandated that PTC be installed on critical areas of railroad track by 2015. However, it became clear by late 2015 that railroads were not going to meet the deadline due to technology issues and high costs, and it was extended to the end of 2018. If certain requirements are met, that deadline can be extended further, to 2020.

PTC is set to be a focus of a February 15 meeting of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

Dealing with the aftereffects of a train accident is difficult. You can turn to a compassionate personal injury attorney at Crandall & Pera Law to pursue legal justice on your behalf. We focus on the fight so you can focus on healing.  Please call our Ohio office at 877-686-8879, or in Kentucky at 877-686-8879. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a no-obligation consultation.