Amtrak ordered to improve safety and increase speed limit signage

According to investigators, train was traveling at about 106mph as it approached a left-hand turn where it then derailed on Tuesday

Amtrak has been ordered to improve safety and increase signage informing of maximum speeds on its Northeast Corridor route, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said on Saturday.

On Tuesday night, an Amtrak train traveling from Washington DC to New York derailed moments after leaving Philadelphia. Five crew members and 238 passengers were on board. Eight people were killed.

On Friday, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators asked the FBI to examine a remnant of the Amtrak locomotive’s shattered windshield, in order to determine if the train had been struck by an object prior to its derailment.

In a statement on Saturday, Amtrak said its “overarching goal is to provide safe and secure rail passenger travel. We will immediately implement the Federal Railroad Administration’s directives to further improve passenger train safety along the Northeast Corridor”.

Regional Train 188 was traveling at about 106mph as it approached a left-hand turn where it derailed, according to NTSB investigators. According to the NTSB’s Robert Sumwalt, the speed limit before the curve was 80mph, dropping to 50mph at the curve. In the three seconds after the emergency break was activated by the train’s engineer, the train slowed to about 102mph.

“We are pretty confident that the train was traveling within one to two miles of those speeds,” Sumwalt said on Wednesday.

According to Sumwalt, the track where the accident occurred was not fitted with the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES). ACSES is part of the Positive Train Control (PTC) system, which automatically enforces speed limits by slowing down or stopping trains that are going too fast or heading into danger zones.

“It’s on our most-wanted list,” Sumwalt said of the ACSES system. “Congress has mandated that it be installed by the end of this year … based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”

map of the Amtrak Train 188 crash

On Saturday, the FRA ordered Amtrak to ensure that an automatic speed control system was put into use on northbound trains on the corridor, which stretches from Washington to Boston. The regulators also ordered the railroad to assess the risk on curves in the track and to increase signage regarding maximum speeds.

In its statement, Amtrak said it was “also reviewing whether it can partially activate some of the capabilities of the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System … components already installed in the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak will evaluate whether such an option can be undertaken without delaying the complete activation of PTC in the Northeast Corridor later this year.”

The northeastern regional service is Amtrak’s busiest, running about 22 hourly departures daily; more than 2,200 trains operate on the Washington-Boston route each day. In 2014, about 11.6 million passengers traveled the corridor, up 3.3% from 2013.

“Although our current focus is on the passengers and employees affected by this incident and the resulting service disruption along the Northeast Corridor, we must also take time to learn from this event,” Joe Boardman, president and chief executive of Amtrak, wrote in an email to Amtrak customers on Saturday.

“Passenger railroading is at its core about people; the safety of our passengers and employees was, is and always will be our number one priority.

Our goal is to fully understand what happened and how we can prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future.”


Jana Kasperkevic in New York

The GuardianTramp

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