Questions Remain After Philadelphia Amtrak Derailment | Ellis Injury Law

Questions Remain After Philadelphia Amtrak Derailment

May 18, 2015

Ellis Law Corporation


Intense investigation continues after an Amtrak train derailed last week on a segment of the Northeast Corridor rail route, which stretches from Washington, DC to Boston and is the busiest in the nation. According to reports, the train, on its way from DC to New York, had 238 passengers and five crew members on board when it departed the tracks while making a sharp turn. It has since emerged that the train was moving at a speed of 106 miles per hour, double the speed limit imposed on that portion of the track. Eight people were killed and over 200 others were injured in the incident.

Unfortunately, California residents are no strangers to devastating rail accidents that leave pain and devastation in their wake. February’s Oxnard derailment in which a Metrolink train left the track, injuring 28 and killing one is a particularly tragic example. At Ellis Law, our Los Angeles train accident attorneys have seen first-hand the difficulties faced by victims in the aftermath of such events, and we are committed to seeking justice on their behalf.

Speculation mounts about cause of crash

The true reason for the derailment remains a mystery, and investigators are still uncertain as to whether sheer speed was the cause or whether other factors including track condition, throttle malfunction or brake settings played a role. However, it is already known that the speed at which the train was traveling when it entered this particularly precarious part of the track was far in excess of the norm. Interviews with the train engineer, who claims no recollection of the crash itself, and a detailed review of the locomotive-mounted camera system continue in an effort to determine precisely what caused this tragedy.

Advanced safety measures could have saved lives

Lead investigator Robert Sumwalt, an official from the National Transportation Safety Board, has stated his belief that a satellite-aided “positive train control” system could have prevented the derailment, had it been activated on this section of track. Even it its absence, says Sumwalt, systems incorporating lights and sounds intended to warn engineers are also present in these trains, though it is unclear if they functioned correctly the night of the crash.

Reports have revealed that positive train control technology had indeed been installed at the site in question, but had not yet undergone necessary testing. Amtrak had pledged to have the system up and fully running by this year, but has not done so, despite the fact that the Northeast Corridor is its most highly traveled route and generates a significant portion of its revenue. The reasons for the delay have become the subject of debate centered around infrastructure funding and bureaucratic red tape.

$200 million damage cap looms large

Despite the staggering loss of life and injury victim tallies into the hundreds, those harmed in the Amtrak derailment will have their financial recovery limited by the federally-imposed rail accident damage cap of $200 million. Congress passed the damage limit in 1997 in an attempt to help rescue Amtrak, then in significant financial and organizational distress.

The cap is thought by many to be quite arbitrary, as its $200 million limit applies no matter how many individuals are harmed in a rail accident or how severe the casualties may be. Commentators believe that this may be the first time Amtrak will face liability for the full amount of the cap, simply because the scope of the fatalities and serious injuries this time is so great.

The injustice of attempting to place a fair value on the lives of those killed or injured in accidents such as this, while keeping the total dollar amount under $200 million, is likely to become more apparent than ever as lawsuits stemming from the Amtrak derailment progress.

Filing a California train accident lawsuit

Public transportation is an essential part of so many people’s lives, and the safety of such systems needs to be paramount. However, when accidents occur, our Los Angeles train derailment attorneys will work tirelessly to secure maximum compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, wrongful death and more.

To receive a complimentary consultation and assessment of your case, or to learn more about filing a personal injury lawsuit in Los Angeles, contact us today at 310-641-3335.

Los Angeles Times, Metrolink crash: Oxnard crossing most hazardous in Ventura County, wrongful death