The May 12, 2015 crash of an Amtrak train traveling from Washington D.C.
to New York City is the latest in a series of recent train accidents that
could have been prevented. This accident was tragically similar to the
Metro-North derailment that took place in the Bronx in December of 2013.
In both cases, the train operators failed to reduce the speed of the train
as it was entering a curve and the excessive speed caused the train to
derail. While the train operator certainly has the responsibility to be
alert and maintain control of the train, Amtrak must also take responsibility
for this tragedy because the technology exists to prevent these exact
types of crashes.
News reports indicate that the Amtrak 188 was traveling in excess of 100
mph as it entered a curve with a designated speed limit of 50 mph. Positive
Train Control Systems monitor the speed of a train along the track and
can automatically slow the train in the event the operator becomes disabled.
In fact, this system was installed on the track in the area of the accident,
but was not activated. Amtrak has put forth various bureaucratic and budgetary
excuses for this state of affairs, none of which can justify the loss
of life and devastation that has been wrought on the victims of this latest crash.
Congress has mandated the implementation of positive train control systems
by the end of 2015, but the rail industry has resisted these safety measures
and is pushing for an extension of the deadline until 2020. It’s
not clear how many more lives have to be lost and how much more harm needs
to be inflicted upon our communities before the rail industry sees the
cost of these measures as economically justified. There is no question
that these systems are costly, but what is the value of the lives lost
and families shattered in preventable wrecks like this?
Too often, the public takes a dim view of individuals that file a personal
injury lawsuit. They don’t always appreciate the value of such lawsuits
in making our communities safer and forcing multi-million and multi-billion
dollar industries to see the economic benefit of implementing safety measures.
Sadly, the economic cost of many lives lost often does not outweigh the
cost of safety measures in the eyes of corporate executives and bureaucrats
focused solely on the bottom line. No doubt Amtrak investigators, risk
managers and attorneys have already begun preparing its defense to the
lawsuits that will be coming. The cost of this disaster alone may not
justify the cost of implementing positive train control systems, but victims
will, and should, likewise seek legal representation. Their lawyers should
ban together to take on Amtrak’s defense and send a message to Amtrak,
and the entire rail industry, that the time has come to stop making excuses
and to implement this life saving technology.
Joseph F. Sullivan, of Sullivan & Brill, LLP, represents victims of
mass transit disasters and other accidents.