Safety Protocols Questioned After Amtrak Collision

By Melissa Ruby,
Domestic News Writer

On average, there are 150 train accidents each year (average taken from 2013 to 2015). In 2015, there were nearly 200 accidents, according to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) online statistics. However, considering the high number of train incidents, the mortality rate is rather low. In 2015, there were thirteen deaths, while the average for 2013-2015 was nine. At about 8:00  Sunday morning on April 3rd, two AMTRAK workers were added to the number of train fatalities for 2016 when an AMTRAK train 89 barreled into a backhoe, 15 miles south of Philadelphia, in Chester, Pennsylvania.

What began as a typical commuter train ride on Sunday morning turned into a stressful and frightening experience for some 341 passengers and seven crew members aboard a train running the track from New York City to Savanah, Georgia. The train was carrying passengers headed for several cities along the eastern seaboard, including Washington D.C. and Wilmington, Delaware. The impact derailed the train, resulting in several injuries.

Per ABC News, passenger, Linton Holmes of Wilson, North Carolina, told reporters that he heard “an explosion. We got off track and then there was like a big explosion. Then there was a fire and the windows burst out. Some people were cut up, but it was just minor injuries.” Others told of how it took nearly half an hour for someone to instruct the passengers to get off the train. The crew was able to direct the passengers to the back of the train for disembarkation, and passengers reported that it was a very orderly evacuation. The passengers were taken to a local church for first aid. The Chester fire commissioner, Travis Thomas, reported that more than thirty passengers were taken to the hospital, all for non-lifethreatening injuries.

No one on board the train was killed, however, both the operator of the backhoe and the supervisor were dead on scene. The operator was Peter Adamovich, 59, of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania and Joseph Carter, 61, of Wilmington, Delaware were experienced workers who had been employees of AMTRAK for decades.

The death of these two men has led to an investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Bureau as to what went wrong to lead to the collision. “Clearly this seems very likely to be human error,” Senator Charles Shumer reported to the Chicago Tribune after the crash. He told the Associated Press, “There is virtually no excuse for a backhoe to be on an active track. AMTRAK has very strict safety protocols, which includes making sure that there is minimal work being done on an active track. There is also no excuse for heavy machinery to be on an active track at all…there is a 20-step protocol that must be followed for having heavy duty equipment on the tracks. Heavy machinery is extremely difficult to move quickly, making it a monumental safety hazard.” Reportedly, there is a zero-tolerance policy for safety violations. The question which the NTSB investigators are trying to answer is who was authorized to be on the track.

This accident comes nearly a year after another fatal train accident near the Philadelphia area, which resulted in the death of eight people. This raises several concerns about the safety of AMTRAK. However, as quoted by the Wall Street Journal, “‘rail-safety statistics have never been better, but nasty, nasty accidents are still occurring,’” said Steven Ditmeyer, a former federal railroad official who is now a consultant. Despite the safety push, he said, “there are still significant vulnerabilities that exist and have to be addressed.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 12th print edition.

Contact Melissa at
melissa.ruby@student.shu.edu

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