A Bad Day for Passenger Trains.

Dec. 19: I have just learned that the Rail Passengers Association lost two members in yesterday’s derailment: Jim Hamre, an elected member of our Board of Directors, and Zack Wilhoite, an RPA member. There are no adequate words.

The crash of Amtrak 501 yesterday is distressing on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s especially tough to turn on your computer in the early morning darkness and be greeted with such a scene.

Of course there is the heartbreak for the families of the dead and the worry and concern and the hardship that will be in the future of the families of the injured.

There is the unbelievable irony of this event occurring to the very first train on the very first day that this new stretch of track was open. That alone is reason enough for suspecting foul play.

The cause of the event will be found and if it proves to be a true accident–human error, if you will– rightly or wrongly, blame will be assigned and some poor bastard’s life will be ruined.

In reporting on the accident—and, yes, I acknowledge that the media is under pressure to get the information out there as quickly as possible—there is nevertheless an obligation to get the facts right. For minutes and then hours, media reports kept referring to this as a “high-speed” train and to the line itself as “high-speed”. Dammit! Wrong and wrong again.

As I understand it, the crash occurred just as the train was entering a brand new stretch of track, the purpose of which being to permit Amtrak trains to run at somewhat higher speeds than conditions on the previous route would permit. You can bet that investigators will be going over the first 100 yards or so of that track with the proverbial fine tooth comb. Don’t expect a definitive report to be coming out soon. But when it does—just one guy’s gut opinion—I suspect there will be evidence of foul play. Damn!