Possible Cause of Amtrak Derailment Announced

The major news outlets have reported that a likely cause of a deadly AMTRAK derailment was operator inattentiveness, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. There is evidence that the train operator was having a discussion over the radio with a dispatcher about a separate incident that caused another engineer to be injured in the course of operating his train.  It was during this discussion that the operator began to accelerate the train while going into a curve.  

By the time the operator realized his error, it was too late.  He engaged the emergency brakes but could not stop the commuter train from derailing.  It has been reported that the train was permitted to travel at a speed approaching 100 miles per hour in a zone where the speed limit was a mere 50 miles per hour.  In the 11 minutes that the train had been travelling since the time it left the station in Philadelphia, it is estimated that between seven to nine of those minutes were spent by the conductor discussing an incident with another train.  At the same time, there was no evidence that the train operator was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or was distracted by cell phone use.

One way to prevent such tragic accidents is to install what is known as Positive Train Control in commuter trains.  This system would override operator error such as in this case when a train is pushed to 100 miles per hour in a 50 miles per hour zone.  Congress has mandated that such systems be used by the commuter train industry but it has given the industry to the end of 2018 to comply.  Such a safety system is overdue — such technology has been available for years but, sadly, the industry seems to be putting its bottom line ahead of passenger safety and a Republican, business friendly, congress is in no hurry to insist on a fix to an imminently fixable problem.

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