Engineer Distraction Cited as Cause of Fatal Amtrak Train Crash, NTSB Reports

Engineer distraction was likely a contributing factor to the deadly Amtrak train crash (of Amtrak passenger train 188) that occurred in Philadelphia just over a year ago. This is according to the latest reports from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has also explained that the source of distraction was reportedly emergency broadcasts from another train on the same rail corridor.

Those transmissions are thought to have caused the engineer a “loss of situational awareness,” resulting in:

  • The engineer losing track of where the train was on the route/rail corridor;
  • The engineer then speeding the train up as it approached a curve (The train was going more than 100 mph, double the speed limit, when it approached the curve); and
  • The train ultimately derailing, killing 8 people and injuring at least 180 other.

Authorities did acknowledge, however, that the engineer, who was “very cooperative” with the investigation, “was not impaired by any substance and was not using his cell phone” at the time of the wreck. Additionally, investigators have noted that the engineer was not affected by fatigue or a medical condition that could have impaired his abilities to safely operate the train.

Causes of Amtrak 188 Train Crash: A Closer Look at NTSB’s Findings

In addition to engineer distraction, another factor that likely contributed to this horrific train wreck, according to the NTSB, was a lack of “positive train control technology (PTC).”

PTC, which transportation safety advocates have been pushing for since the 1970s, is a complex set of technologies that can reportedly prevent train crashes by automatically slowing or stopping trains under certain conditions.

Had PTC been available on the rail corridor that Amtrak 188 was traversing, the speeding up of the train – and the resulting derailment – could have been preventing, NTSB investigators have explained.

Elucidating this point, NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart has stated:

It’s widely understood that every person, no matter how conscientious and skilled, is fallible, which is why technology was developed to backstop human vulnerabilities… Had positive train control been in place on that stretch of track, this entirely preventable tragedy would not have happened… Unless positive train control is implemented soon, I’m very concerned that we’re going to be back in this room again, hearing investigators detail how technology that we have recommended for more than 45 years could have prevented yet another fatal rail accident.

In concluding its report on the investigation findings, the NTSB made 11 new safety recommendations, some of which included calls for:

  • Amtrak to enhance its safety training for crewmembers in order to specifically address distraction/focus issues
  • The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to install equipment or features on railroad tracks not currently using PTC so that crews can easily identify their location
  • The FRA to install video and audio recording devices within train cabs.

Contact a Columbia SC Personal Injury Attorney at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Attorneys at Law

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