By: Allan M. Siegel
“This is an absolutely shouldn’t-have-happened situation…
the safety procedures are in place to prevent exactly this,” said
Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railroad
Engineering and Safety Program. Zarembski is referring to the
deadly Amtrak crash that occurred last week just south of Philadelphia that killed two workers
and injured dozens of passengers. A backhoe supervisor and operator had
been on an area of train track they thought had been closed off by dispatchers
when an Amtrak train going over 106 miles per hour collided with their
equipment. It is unlikely that the two men would have heard the train
coming over the noise of the backhoe, and the train operator did not have
enough braking distance to avoid the collision.
The accident occurred at almost the same location as a similar accident
that happened 28 years ago, and is proof that even the best electronic
systems cannot prevent human error. Evidently, the problem with technology
is that it can provide a false sense of security when we begin to rely
on it solely.
A directive from the Federal Railroad Administration to Amtrak suggests
that a communication error resulted in the safety protocol failure that
led to the accident. So far, investigators have not yet specified who
was authorized to be on the rails at the time of the crash, nor whether
positive train control, a system designed to automatically stop trains
to prevent a collision, was engaged. The positive train control system
was implemented only a few months ago in response to another fatal
train accident that occurred north of Philadelphia last spring.
Workers are required to gain authority from a dispatcher before going out
onto the tracks. According to area residents whose homes border the tracks,
Amtrak employees had been out on the tracks for weeks before the day of
the accident. Since orders to repair rails start with railroad higher-ups,
someone must have known that the workers were out the day of the crash.
This unfortunate accident is one of many fatal accidents that Amtrak has
seen in recent years. According to NTSB data, two employees died on the
job last year, and 11 on-duty employee fatalities occurred in 2015. The
Federal Railroad Administration has responded by implementing stringent
policies for on-track work, but it is clear that further action is needed
to ensure proficiency and enforcement. But according to Zarembski, no
piece of technology will ever completely eliminate the risk that something
will go wrong when someone steps on a track.
If you have been hurt in a train accident or have suffered the untimely
loss of a family member,
contact Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, Siegel, P.C. to speak with a Washington,
DC train accident attorney.