On Tuesday, May 12, at least seven people died and more than 200 people were injured, many severely, when Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 derailed in Philadelphia. The “black box” for the train revealed that it was traveling at approximately 106 miles per hour – twice the governing speed limit –as it went into a sharp turn. Passengers were violently flung about the train in what survivors describe as a terrifying event.
Clearly, the train engineer was reckless and must be held largely accountable for the disaster that he wrought. However, this catastrophic accident could and should have been prevented by responsible management of the nation’s train system. “Positive Train Control” computerized technology regulates trains in many other places throughout the U.S. and prevents a train from exceeding the speed limit. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended its deployment in the extraordinarily busy Northeast Corridor, where this crash occurred. However, Congress has irresponsibly voted down the funding necessary to deploy this technology. Unbelievably, Congress cut Amtrak funding the day after this fatal crash.
The Northeast Corridor is the busiest region in the country for train travel. Amtrak carries more than 750,000 passengers a day across eight states and the District of Columbia in this region alone. A vast number of Americans depend on our trains to run safely. Yet, due to a combination of a crumbling infrastructure and driver error there were, according to the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis, approximately 1,241 derailments in the U.S. last year. Hundreds of people are seriously injured and many are killed in train crashes annually. By contrast, although Japan has had a high speed rail system for close to 50 years, they have never had a fatality, according to Sean Jeans-Gail, the Vice-President of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. The NARP has long been forcefully advocating for our failing rail system to be repaired and maintained in accordance with reasonable safety standards.