Regulators Face Same Concerns Following Washington Amtrak Crash

Regulators Face Same Concerns Following Washington Amtrak Crash

People boarding an Amtrak trainThe recent fatal train derailment in Washington state has renewed concerns over the same safety issues that continue to plague American roadways. Although federal officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are still investigating the crash, they have confirmed that Amtrak Cascades passenger train 501 was traveling close to 50 mph over the speed limit when it derailed on a curved stretch of track over Interstate 5 near DuPont. The crash killed 3 victims and injured 62 others.

As investigators sift through the wreckage and continue to piece together the moments prior to the derailment, many officials, advocates, and families have called attention to critical safety measures that could have prevented the crash – as well as other major U.S. train accidents in recent years. Unfortunately, as the recent derailment shows, there is still a great deal of work to be done when it comes to improving railway safety and overcoming hurdles standing in the way.

Positive Train Control

One of the major issues re-introduced in the wake of the deadly crash concerns Positive Train Control (PTC), a type of computerized safety system that can automatically slow or stop trains during collision critical moments. In this particular accident, some experts claim, PTC could have slowed the train down to a safer speed as it approached the curved track, thereby preventing the derailment. Positive Train Control has also been cited by NTSB as a safety measure that would have prevented the devastating Philadelphia Amtrak derailment in 2015 – a crash that killed 9 victims and injured more than 200 other passengers – and the deadly Metrolink collision in Chatsworth, California caused by a distracted train engineer who ran a red light signal because he was text messaging.

Positive train control is by no means new technology – it has been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board since 1970. According to NTSB officials, positive train control has been proven to significantly reduce crash risks – including those caused by the same types of concerns and issues that have led to many major crashes. These include:

  • Excessive speeds and derailment
  • Track signal errors
  • Single-track train collisions
  • Train engineer distraction

Politicizing Safety

Although PTC has been hailed for its effectiveness, it has still yet to be implemented across all U.S. railways. Despite undergoing billions in federally-funded updates, for example, the stretch of track carrying Amtrak train 501 on its inaugural Point Defiance Bypass did not have PTC operational at the time of the crash. This, many advocates state, is a problem that stems from the politicization of issues involving new safety measures – even if those safety measures have been proven to save lives.

Since the NTSB has reported on Positive Train Control technology as a means to reduce devastating train accidents, there have been over 150 major accidents on railways across the U.S. – resulting in nearly 300 deaths and thousands of injuries – which experts say could have been prevented. Unfortunately, as we see in many cases of corporations, profits are often placed over people, which is largely why PTC has yet to be nationally used by all carriers and railways.

Following the crash, many Americans have stepped forward to call out the sluggishness behind implementing Positive Train Control. One of the biggest challenges, they say, stems from the flood of money in politics and aggressive lobbying tactics by major railroads. In 2015, for example, major railroads were successful in getting Congress to delay the deadline for installing the technology. Their arguments typically concern resources, costs, and effort associated with installation.

With victims and families continuing to suffer tremendous tragedies in preventable train accidents, the time is now for the federal government to take an active role in protecting the public and putting an end to politicizing issues of safety. Experts have confirmed the technology and resources for installation and implementation of PTC exist today (some railways are already using it) – which means the issue has become a moral choice for regulators and lawmakers to make. Failing to make PTC a priority means allowing tragedies like this to continue.

At Biren Law Group, our Los Angeles personal injury lawyers are advocates for the injured and the wronged. Over the years we have been fighting for local residents, we have seen many tragedies that could and should have been prevented. These sad and profoundly difficult experiences are only made worse when corporations shirk their responsibilities, fail to make needed change, and continue to harm others in the same ways. We are proud to have played a role in contributing to such changes – including better safety standards for workers who use industrial equipment – and continue to use our experience as a means to fight for victims and raise awareness about issues that benefit public safety.

If you have questions about your rights following a preventable accident – from train crashes and car accidents to accidents involving defective products – do not hesitate to contact us for a FREE consultation.


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