Earlier this month the National Transportation Safety Board released over 2,000 pages of investigations into the deadly Amtrak train accident that occurred outside of Philadelphia last May. Eight passengers, including one Maryland resident, were killed when the train derailed. Over 200 passengers were injured in the crash.
Historically Amtrak has had between 50 and 100 accidents per year, with a few exceptions. The number is much bigger when accidents due to external conditions (like a pedestrian crossing illegally) are considered. Though Amtrak faces increased ridership and flat funding, recent trends show its trains are getting in fewer accidents. Accident rates between 2000 and 2014 dropped from 4.1 to 1.7 accidents per million passenger miles.
Even as accident rates drop the number of passenger injuries grows each year, and last May's derailment made 2015 the deadliest year ever for Amtrak. The Washington Post reports that one contributing factor could be fuller trains with more passengers.
The National Transportation Safety Board will review findings from the investigation and will make safety recommendations which will likely affect all Amtrak train services. The Frankfurt Junction curve where the derailment happened is one of the sharpest curves in Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. The speed limit for the curve is set to 50 mph, but the train was going 102 when it reached the curve.
Many people, like the Marylander who was killed in the crash, use Amtrak for daily commutes. Injuries from train crashes are often severe due to the high speeds of the trains. Crashed Amtrak train 188 was a newer high-speed train that could reach speeds of 150 mph.
The exact cause of the derailment of Amtrak train 188 is still under investigation, but a variety of safety concerns could have led to the crash. Though the conductor was aware of being over the speed limit for the corridor, he did not remember pushing the train to such high speeds. The conductor also reported that visual cues of the upcoming curve can be impossible to see at night and that speed restriction signs along the tracks are often outdated or wrong.
The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act limits compensation to the victims of Amtrak crashes to $200 million per crash, but many are expecting last May's crash to set new precedents.
Passengers involved in train crashes can be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, disability, and physical and emotional suffering. Train crashes can be the result of negligence on the part of the conductor or the company, or can be the result of external factors like a car stuck on the tracks. Train accidents mostly involve collisions with cars and accidents involving pedestrians. An average of 400 pedestrians are killed each year by trains.
Maryland's Rosedale has one of the most dangerous stretches of train crossings in the country; there are five rail crossings in less than 2 miles. Four of those crossings are on private land and lack signals, gates, and lights. Baltimore news station WBAL found reports of 31 vehicle–train accidents that occurred on this stretch since 1975.
Drivers and pedestrians cannot always rely on train signals to alert them to oncoming trains. If you or a loved one has been injured in a train accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney.