Pennsauken, NJ (Law Firm Newswire) June 18, 2015 – Feds say train was traveling at more than twice the speed limit on sharp curve of tracks.
In one of the worst accidents in Amtrak’s history, the carrier’s Northeast Regional Train No. 188, traveling from Washington to New York City, derailed in Philadelphia on May 12. The seven-car train, which jumped the tracks at approximately 9:30 p.m., ended up in a mangled mess and left eight passengers dead and at least another 200 injured among the 243 people, including five crew members, who were onboard the train.
Many survivors, dazed and bloodied, spilled outward as best they could in the darkness from the twisted train wreck — some had to disembark from overturned cars through impromptu exits such as windows that were pointed skyward — onto the surrounding railway. Many who could walk attempted to make their way toward help in the immediate vicinity, the Port Richmond area of Philadelphia. First responders transported most of the victims to area hospitals.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) soon arrived at the scene of the derailment. And at a post-crash press conference, lead NTSB investigator Robert Sumwalt said that the train was traveling at a speed of up to 106 mph when it entered the Frankford Junction curve — one of the sharpest in the Northeast Corridor — where the speed limit is 50 mph. Information collected from the train’s data recorder confirmed Sumwalt’s contention that the train was traveling too fast over the section of track where it derailed.
“The fact that the train was moving at more than twice the speed limit for the curve in the tracks where it derailed creates a clear causal connection to the accident,” said Steven Petrillo, a prominent personal injury attorney in Philadelphia. “Amtrak had a duty of care toward its passengers, and it is not hard to conclude that the carrier acted negligently when its train attempted to pass through that curve at an excessive speed and will likely be held liable for damages.”
Sumwalt pointed out that technology known as positive train control — which automatically slows down or stops trains going too fast or halts them before an impending collision with another train — could have prevented the crash had it been in place where the train left the tracks. While positive train control has been added to some stretches of the heavily traversed Northeast Corridor, the system is largely absent from the Philadelphia area.
Congress mandated that all of the nation’s railroad system have positive train control by the end of 2015 in the wake of a deadly head-on collision in September 2008 between a Metrolink train and a freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., that resulted in 25 deaths and more than 100 injuries.
The Amtrak train derailed on a portion of the Frankford Junction curve that is almost exactly the same location of an even deadlier derailment. On September 6, 1943, a Congressional Limited with 541 passengers jumped the tracks, a crash that killed 79 passengers and injured another 117.
“It will be interesting to see if the installation of positive train control is accelerated throughout the U.S. rail system in the wake of the recent Amtrak derailment, especially in notoriously tricky stretches such as the Frankford Junction,” Petrillo said. “Improvements to the nation’s aging railway infrastructure should already be a top priority, and it should not take numerous train wrecks to compel lawmakers to act.”
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