On the morning of May 12, hundreds of lives were changed when an Amtrak passenger train careened around a curve at twice the speed advised for the section of track and derailed, injuring most of the 238 passengers on board and resulting in eight deaths reported in the first week.
Following the Amtrak derailment, officials, politicians and lawyers have all mounted to point fingers as investigators still work tirelessly to determine the exact cause of the accident. While many of the details of the incident are still hazy, what is crystal clear is that more must be done to address the issue of transportation safety as well as to prevent accidents of the same nature from ever occurring again.
Officials Quick to Indict Engineer
Numerous officials and politicians have been quick to criticize Brandon Bostian, the engineer who was operating the train when it exceeded 100 miles per hour going into a curve where the recommended speed was only 50 miles per hour. Brandon cannot seem to recall the events or has refused to provide any incriminating information at the behest of his attorney but the investigation has called into question whether the accident was entirely Bostian’s fault and if the cause of the accident was influenced by other factors. The NTSB was quick to chastise the Mayor of Philadelphia, who rushed to crucify Bostian, stating that its investigation was still underway and no conclusion had been reached.
Accident May Have Been the Result of Infrastructure Defunding
The NTSB revealed in its investigation that Amtrak had failed to install speed control systems ahead of the curve that would have prevented the accident regardless of whether an engineer was operating at excessive speeds. The lack of this system has become political fodder as politicians argue that the defunding of infrastructure programs is making our transportation system less reliable and more deadly. The day after the derailment, House Republicans voted to cut $1 billion from Amtrak spending which was met by sharp criticism from Democrats.
On one side of the argument, Speaker of the House John Boehner has cited Bostian for operating the train in an irresponsible manner while Senator Corey Booker has pointed out how far behind the nation has fallen behind other countries on the quality of transportation infrastructure. He also pointed out that even if Bostian was determined to be at fault, the accident would have been prevented completed had Amtrak implemented the speed control system the NTSB had early advised it to.
Factors that May Have Caused the Accident
Brandon Bostian does not remember the events preceding the accident and suffered a concussion during the event so investigators are still unsure whether a health issue or substance abuse are contributing factors and Bostian has cooperated so far as in providing a blood sample to exonerate himself. If Bostian had lost consciousness prior to the accident, it would explain the excessive speeds but the lack of a speed control system and brake failure may also have been contributing factors. The quality of the train tracks themselves is also being thrown into question as investigators race to provide an answer to the victims and public officials who are demanding one.
Parties Which May Be Subject to Legal Action
If Brandon Bostian is found to be responsible for the accident, he will share liability with Amtrak, who can also be held liable through the statute of vicarious liability. There is a long list of organizations and companies that may end up seeing a day of reckoning— from Amtrak itself to the many manufacturers of train equipment to the maintenance workers responsible for inspecting trains to ensure that they are safe to operate and repairing any defective or worn parts such as brakes and hydraulic systems. The lawsuits that are anticipated to follow in the wake of this disaster will only provide vindication to victims and their families. Prevention of future incidents requires regulations and funding that must come from the top; from a government that has a record of ignoring infrastructure concerns for decades now.