NTSB Holds Hearings on Amtrak Crashes

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently held investigative hearings to review the circumstances that led to fatal Amtrak railroad accidents in Washington and South Carolina (NTSB hearing focuses on railroad safety following two fatal Amtrak crashes). Federal safety investigators sought to identify safety improvements that could prevent future railroad accidents.

The hearings were not intended to determine the cause of these specific accidents, but instead to give the NTSB the opportunity to gather information to help prevent future tragedies. “We are all here for the same reason – to stop these,” said NTSB member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr.

In December 2017, an Amtrak train on its first run from Seattle to Portland crashed on a sharp curve, killing three and injuring over 100. The train was traveling 78 mph in a 30 mph zone. Then in February 2018, an accident involving an Amtrak passenger train and a CSX freight train killed two and injured 116 because of a misaligned railroad switch.

After the accidents, the NTSB recommended that federal railroad officials issue emergency orders mandating trains to slow down when signals are disabled and to verify that switches are in the right place before continuing. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has yet to act on the order. “We are curious to know where the FRA is going with this,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “We do not believe that just having people on the ground to verify that [the switch] is in the proper position is the be all end all.”

Sumwalt questioned whether railroad companies were more interested in profits than passenger and employee welfare, noting that shareholder reports emphasize efficiency and earnings and ignore safety. Amtrak responded that it is committed to safety. “One of the lessons we’ve learned is establishing systemwide standards,” said Justin Meko, Amtrak’s vice president for safety, compliance, and training.

It is certainly no secret that giant corporations such as railroad companies regularly choose profits over the safety of the American people, but it is encouraging that the NTSB is at least attempting to make them change their focus after these horrible accidents. If you have been injured in a railroad accident, it is vital that you hire an experienced attorney. Please call DBJ

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