Chicago-Bound Amtrak Train Derails

An Amtrak train travelling to Chicago derailed this month, injuring at least 32 people. The train accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm explain the safety issues contributing to Amtrak injuries and our railway injury practice.

The recent derailment occurred in rural Kansas on Amtraks route from Los Angeles to Chicago. Five of the trains cars derailed just after midnight. Early news stories suggest a truck hit the Amtrak railway, shifting the tracks at least a foot before the derailment.

The train was going about 60 miles per hour when the engineer saw a significant bend in the rails and applied the emergency break. The train came to a complete stop about 18 seconds later, leaving 32 passengers injured, two of them critically. The Red Cross was sent to the scene to assist as well.

Just last month, the National Transportation Safety Board released thousands of pages of investigations into the deadly Philadelphia Amtrak derailment. Eight passengers were killed, and more than 200 others were injured in the May 2015 derailment, making last year Amtrak’s deadliest year to date. Read more about the Philadelphia derailment here.

Passenger Safety and New Technology

Amtrak reports between 50 and 100 train accidents every year. As you’ve read on this blog several times, new technologies continue to shape and progress how we travel throughout our country. Railway technologies have not fallen behind – there are new safety systems designed constantly – but companies like Amtrak claim underfunding and other complex issues are keeping them from implementing them.

For example, experts point to an automated control system that would have prevented the Philadelphia derailment, saving eight lives.  The train was going too fast when it derailed, raising questions about an automated system called Positive Train Control, which would have slowed the train down.

Positive Train Control (PTC) stops trains from going too fast in any given condition, overriding the engineer if it must. Alarmingly few passenger and freight trains are actually equipped with the system, even though Congress required all trains in the country have PTC by the end of 2015. This measure was taken after a train crash in California killed 25 people.

The railway industry claims it had to build the system from scratch; since it requires wireless signaling, GPS technology, and other complex computer software, this has been no easy feat. Railroads must have their PTC systems operate between each other, meaning all railroad companies had to create the system together, further complicating the task.

Railroads have spent more than $6 billion on the PTC project already, and they’re not even close to implementing it. Chicago Congressman Mike Quigley admits that congressional red tape is partly to blame for this safety failure. He states that, when Congress required PTC in all trains and railways by the end of the year, most representatives did not fully understand PTC, failed to help the companies involved, and did not consider the lack of funding to accomplish it. In particular, Quigley continued, commuter railroads like Metra would never have been able to meet the deadline.

Americans take nearly 500 million trips on commuter rails every year. Quigley and many others in Congress are aware that these companies need significant funding to get PTC in all trains and make them safer. Like most other congressional tasks, efforts to boost their funding have stalled.

Finally, in 2015, the House passed legislation giving railroads an additional three years to install PTC technology thanks to efforts by Quigley and Representative Dan Newhouse of Washington.

Anyone who takes Amtrak regularly or has a loved one who does should know the company has an Emergency Hotline, 800-523-9101. You can call this number to get information on friends or family members on derailed trains, among other emergencies.

Our team of train accident lawyers represents passengers, railway workers, and pedestrians seriously injured or killed in train accidents. We provide free legal consultations to victims and their families nationwide, and will travel to you to guide you through the process of filing a claim.

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