Updated on: 11/22/2019
Two Amtrak workers were killed in a collision with a CSX freight train in South Carolina early Sunday morning. Over 100 people were injured in the incident.
The two trains collided in Cayce, South Carolina. The Amtrak train was en route from New York to Miami; Amtrak said eight crew members and 139 passengers were on board. Two of the 116 people injured were in critical condition after the wreck, which occurred about 5 miles southwest of the state capital, Columbia.
The Amtrak train was diverted onto a side track and crashed into a parked, unmanned freight train. Images from the scene show the Amtrak locomotive lying on its side and at least four of the freight train’s cars crumpled.
On Sunday, Amtrak blamed a freight rail operator for causing the crash in Lexington County. The passenger rail line’s President and CEO Richard Anderson said in a statement that CSX was responsible for the tracks and signals, including one that had a lock attached to it and diverted the Amtrak train onto the side track.
Key to the investigation will be learning why the switch was lined that way. CSX did not address the comments by the Amtrak CEO but said it was working with federal investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board will conduct the investigation into the crash, a process that usually takes anywhere from 12 to 24 months.
Third Deadly Amtrak Crash In Two Months
The collision in South Carolina between Amtrak Train 91 and a CSX freight train marks the third deadly Amtrak crash in less than two months.
In December 2017, an Amtrak Cascades train derailed over Interstate 5 in DuPont, Washington, killing three people and injuring 70 others. Then last week in Virginia an Amtrak train carrying dozens of members of Congress collided with a garbage truck at a crossing, killing an occupant of the truck and injuring passengers on the train.
The string of high-profile derailments and collisions over the past several years has called attention to Amtrak’s safety record. After an investigation into the 2016 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt said Amtrak’s approach to safety — with evidence showing it prioritized on-time performance while threatening to fire workers who broke rules — had created a culture of fear where bending the rules was acceptable to “get the job done.”
A recent New York Times article on Amtrak’s run of bad publicity details the startling facts. Despite Amtrak’s record-high ridership, derailments and crashes have become more common.
“Amtrak has put a question in people’s minds,” said James E. Hall, a former chairman of the NTSB.
No Positive Train Control (PTC) On Tracks
In what is becoming the norm, safety experts said in the days after the Amtrak crash in South Carolina that a safety technology known as positive train control would have prevented the collision.
Sumwalt, appearing near the site of the wreckage, was critical of Amtrak’s lack of effort to install positive train control on all its lines.
“How many years have we been calling for PTC? PTC is designed to mitigate mistakes like this,” Sumwalt said. “This is, indeed, a human mistake.”
Amtrak has installed PTC on most of its Northeast Corridor. Other lines, such as the Amtrak Cascades service in Washington State and the southern stretch of tracks in South Carolina, do not have PTC implemented.
PTC is an advanced system designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents occur. PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive train speed, as well as train movements through misaligned track switches.
Amtrak Engineer Had History Of Accidents
The 54-year-old Amtrak engineer killed in the South Carolina crash had a history of collisions, according to the New York Post. The engineer’s brother told the media outlet that his brother had been involved in “four or five accidents” in recent years.
The story details how the engineer had trouble handling the collisions. He reportedly wanted to go on disability because of the mental trauma from the accidents, but Amtrak cleared him.
“(He) had about four or five accidents over the six or eight years he was with Amtrak — there was always someone trying to beat the tracks or a suicider waiting for a train,” the engineer’s brother said. “After each accident, Amtrak gave him the rest of the week off but always pushed to get him rolling again.”
The engineer formerly worked for CSX freight line, but went back to Amtrak because of CSX’s safety culture
Federal Cap On Amtrak Crash Damages
There is a federal statute that caps the damages from Amtrak derailments and crashes. While it’s ordinarily hard to put a number on the total value of an injury case, Congress has set a limit on how much victims can receive in accidents involving Amtrak.
The 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act set a $200 million maximum limit for the “allowable awards to all rail passengers, against all defendants, for all claims, including claims for punitive damages, arising from a single accident." That limit was later raised to $295 million in 2015.
No matter how many are killed or suffer serious injuries, the dollar amount for their total damages cannot exceed $295 million.
Contact An Amtrak Train Crash Attorney
In major, high-profile cases involving Amtrak or any other commercial vehicle, having a lawyer on your side to fight for you legal rights is important. For nearly 25 years, attorney Chris Davis and the legal team at Davis Law Group P.S., has represented people who have been badly injured or killed because of someone else's negligence. This involves several high-profile cases against commercial vehicle companies and their insurers.
Davis Law Group represents multiple victims of the Amtrak derailment in DuPont. If you or a loved one has been involved in an Amtrak train crash or derailment, it’s likely in your best interest to consult with a personal injury attorney. Victims of the recent derailment in South Carolina should look for an attorney in that area, even if they are residents of New York or Florida.
Contact our office at (206) 727-4000, use the chat feature below or fill out the form on this page to get started. Our attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis, meaning we don’t get paid unless you win your case.
Image: Associated Press