A Tough Few Weeks for Amtrak.

In December, one of the Cascades trains derailed near Tacoma, Washington, when it went into a curve at close to 80 miles an hour … a curve with a speed limit of 30 mph. A bunch of passengers were injured and three were killed, one of whom was serving with me on the RPA board of directors.
Then, not quite two weeks ago, an Amtrak train struck a garbage truck at a grade crossing in West Virginia. One of the occupants of the truck was killed. The train, by the way, was a special charter carrying Republican members of Congress to a weekend retreat at the famous Greenbriar Resort in White Sulphur Springs.

Next, just days ago, the Silver Star, one of Amtrak’s Florida trains, was mistakenly switched onto a siding where a CSX freight had been parked to allow the Amtrak train to pass by on the main track. The Amtrak engineer and conductor were both killed in the resulting collision. Since the accident occurred in the wee hours, no one was in the Café Car (photo above) at the time of the collision.
And finally—we hope—two cars of a northbound Acela trainset separated while the train was moving at 125 miles-per-hour. An after-the-fact inspection revealed that a coupling pin had broken—technically metal fatigue, I suppose. No one was injured, but the incident scared the crap out of the passengers in the two cars.
Human failings of one kind or another were to blame in all four incidents. In the Acela case, a contributing factor was the original insistence of the Federal Railroad Administration that the Acela railway cars be heavily reinforced—well beyond the specifications of comparable equipment being used in Europe. The “overweight theory” would contend that all the additional weight, considered unnecessary by most experts, eventually caused a critical coupling pin to snap from metal fatigue.
Let’s all hope Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson’s demand for a new and more intense focus on safety plus an increased awareness on the part of all rank-and-file employees will do the job. It must be noted, however, that Amtrak’s equipment is old and is reaching (or has already passed) the normal end of a useful lifetime.