The December 2017 Amtrak crash in Washington State might not have happened if the train included Positive Train Control technology.

Instead, the terrible derailment caused three deaths and multiple injuries to passengers and train crew.

How the derailment occurred

The Amtrak passenger train was traveling on a new route near Seattle, Washington, when the derailment occurred. It was speeding through a curve on a bridge over Interstate 5 when it jumped the tracks. Three passengers died in the crash and all crew members went to the hospital with injuries. A conductor-in-training who was familiarizing himself with the new route was in the locomotive with the engineer. The train’s conductor was in a passenger car at the time of the accident.

Multiple issues

The leading cause of a train derailment is a broken rail or weld. Track geometry is also high on the list of causes. However, in the case of the Washington crash, speed was an issue since the train was going into a 30 mile-per-hour curve at 78 mph. Many of the injured passengers as well as those who died were in cars modified to withstand collisions of up to 50 mph, but the NTSB had expressed concern about their safety at higher speeds. In addition, the NTSB has long touted Positive Train Control, modern technology that automatically slows or stops a train that is going too fast. Unfortunately, this technology was not yet installed on the train in the Washington derailment.  

The legal viewpoint

In the aftermath of the Washington derailment, legal professionals expect consolidation of the multiple lawsuits naming multiple defendants for hearings in one court by a single judge. Injured railroad employees are eligible to receive compensation for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering and more through FELA, the Federal Employees Liability Act. Meanwhile, the rash of Amtrak crashes, of which the Washington derailment was one, have abated. Congress expects all train companies to install Positive Train Control by the end of 2018.