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NTSB Finds Amtrak Flaws Led to Fatal PA Train Crash

Federal railroad safety investigators concluded last month that a culture of safety lapses at Amtrak is what caused a collision between a passenger train and a backhoe that killed two Amtrak workers and injured 39 outside Philadelphia in April 2016.

Federal investigators determined that Amtrak workers at the site lacked critical safety equipment that the railroad required that would have steered the train around repair work being done on tracks.

The NTSB also found 20 cultural safety lapses, including an absence of a job briefing at the work site before high-speed trains were allowed to get back on the track, were among the unsafe issues that led to the fatal train crash.

The NTSB also found that Amtrak had tried to enforce safety rules but that Amtrak management had such a poor relationship with unions that workers were not reporting safety violations.

The case involved an Amtrak passenger train that hit a backhoe at 100 MPH at 7:50 AM near Chester, Pennsylvania. The crash derailed the train and obliterated the backhoe. The accident killed the backhoe operator and the track supervisor. Also, 39 people were injured on the train. The train crash caused $2.5 million in damage.

Safety board investigators found that one of four tracks in that area had been closed for 55 hours for repairs. But the track next to it, which was blocked by the backhoe, was only shut down temporarily during each worker shift and was left open by accident for passenger train traffic.

The night foreman lifted the track closure at 7:29 AM as the backhoe was still on the track, but the day foreman failed to restore the track closure on a call minutes later. This allowed the fatal crash about 20 minutes later.

Amtrak does have an automatic braking system installed that is supposed to avoid train crashes and derailments. Also, workers are equipped with supplemental shunting devices that can be placed on the track near construction sites that can change track signals to tell train engineers when tracks are closed.

But workers at the site of the fatal wreck did not have shunts.

Our View

Our train accident and derailment attorneys in Virginia are dismayed to read of the many safety lapses at Amtrak that led to a preventable train derailment. It is vital for railroads, including those run by the US government, to strictly obey safety rules. When railroads fail to do so, the results can be devastating in terms of deaths and personal injuries. Those injured and the grieving families involved in this terrible accident should remember that they have the right to seek compensation in civil court through either a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.