On December 18th, 2017, an Amtrak train derailed while approaching a curve and a bridge near DuPont, Washington, on the inaugural run of a new service route from Seattle to Portland. Some cars of the train fell from the bridge onto the roadway below, and at least three people were killed and over 100 injured.
According to Transitdocs.com, which tracks Amtrak train locations and speeds using data from the railroad’s app, the train was traveling at 81.1 miles per hour at the time of the crash; the speed limit for that section of track is 30 miles per hour. Richard Anderson, Amtrak’s President and co-CEO, said that positive train control (PTC) technology was not in use on the tracks. This would have automatically slowed and stopped the train if it sensed it was moving too fast for that section.
This exact same issue was the cause of a similar derailment that occurred in the Spuyten Duyvil area of Riverdale in the southwestern part of the Bronx in New York City. In December 2013, a Metro-North train traveling on the Hudson line rounded a curve at 82 miles per hour while the posted speed limit was 30 miles per hour, and subsequently derailed. Four people were killed, and another 61 passengers on the train were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board said that in both situations PTC technology—which is required by federal mandate to be installed in trains—would have slowed the trains down enough to prevent the derailments.
In the New York accident, several claims were filed against Metro-North, saying that Metro-North was negligent in not ensuring their passengers’ safety by installing PTC in all their trains, as required by federal law. Their negligence also allegedly included failing to replace the hundred-year-old train tracks at the site of the accident and allowing their workplace culture to ignore safety issues. Some claims demanded as much as $10 million in punitive damages.
However, Metro-North argued that the proximate cause of the New York accident was the engineer’s lack of attention caused by his sleep apnea, not the lack of any PTC installation. Since being drowsy while operating a vehicle was not a crime in New York, it would have been difficult to convict the engineer on charges of negligent homicide.
In May 2015, the Bronx District Attorney’s office announced that it would not be filing charges against the engineer. Rather than reveal more information about the engineer’s sleep apnea, it seems Metro-North preferred to settle the suits. As of October 2015, Metro-North’s insurance carriers paid over $22 million dollars to victims from the 2013 accident. In addition, 174 of 292 claims for personal injuries and lost property in five major Metro-North accidents since May 2013 were settled.
If you were involved in a train accident caused by negligence on the part of either a train company or their employees, dedicated train accident attorneys can help you. We know how to work with insurance companies, and large transit companies often want to settle claims quickly.