Amtrak experienced its third accident in a period of less than seven weeks when a train hit immobile freight Sunday morning. This accident could have been prevented if the train was equipped with positive train control. According to the Department of Transportation, as of December 31, 2018, it will be illegal for trains not to be equipped with positive train control.
Positive train control is a progressive technology that can counteract certain types of train accidents, including derailments due to speed, train collisions with other trains, askew track switches, or unauthorized train access in work areas. This life-saving technology can analyze track information, gives ample warning to the engineer of track conditions and speed limits, and can deliver the engineer warnings if the train needs to come to a stop. The technology is even capable of bringing the train to a precise stop on its own if the engineer does not step in and bring the train to a halt in case of danger.
Unfortunately, on February 18, 2018, an Amtrak train collided into a parked CSX train and injured 116 people and killed two. The Amtrak train was not equipped with positive train control. The engineer and conductor were both killed, as the train collided with a freight train because it was accidentally directed to a side track after traveling southbound. The train should not have changed its course, and was to remain heading straight on the track. Fortunately, the CSX train that was collided into had no passengers on board.
Standard procedure when a switch is operated manually is to place a padlock on the switch to ensure it stays aligned in accordance with the manual direction, and this was the case in these circumstances. However, Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, noted that they were not aware why this train was not equipped with positive train control. “It’s crucial to find out why the switch was aligned incorrectly,” Sumwalt stated.
CSX deems the events tragic, and offers the individuals who lost their family members their most sincere condolences. Another concern that occurred due to the accident was a spill of over 5,000 gallons of fuel, but fortunately it has not become a safety issue for the public. Investigation into this particular incident will shed more light on the matter, as CSX is a leading provider for railroad transportation.
The investigation could take up to 18 months, as the legalities for train accidents can be multifaceted. “There are typically more standards, statutes of limitations, and laws that come into play during a train collision unlike an auto crash; and due to the great weight and size of the equipment, injury or death unfortunately takes place more frequently than it should,” stated John Foy, train accident lawyer in Georgia.
Fortunately under the circumstances, people were not panicking, even though they were abruptly awakened in the middle of the night due to the impact.