Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak derailments’

Jury Awards $8M in Cascades Derailment Case

April 5, 2022

A Washington State woman has won $8 million in damages stemming from the 2017 derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train.

The award from a jury in a federal court in Tacoma includes $2.5 million for past non-economic compensatory damages and $5.5 million for future non-economic damages to Emily Torjusen of Seattle.

Torjusen was a student at the University of Washington at the time and was traveling to Vancouver, Washington. She was 20 at the time of the derailment, which killed three. The jury made the award after a four-day trial.

Evidence introduced in the case said she suffered a fractured collarbone and “major emotional and cognitive consequences.”

One of her attorneys said in a statement that Torjusen continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and post-concussion syndrome.

Torjusen was riding in the seventh car of the train at the time of the derailment.

The Dec, 18, 2017, derailment in DuPont, Washington, was attributed by the National Transportation Safety Board report to the train traveling at 79 miles per hour as it entered a 30 mph curve.

The Seattle Times reported that including the most recent jury award Amtrak has been ordered to pay more than $46 million in damages as a result of the derailment. This also includes awards of $4.5 million and $17 million in 2019, $10 million in 2020, and $6.9 million in 2021.

Ex-Amtrak Engineer’s Trial Had Long History

March 9, 2022

The criminal trial of former Amtrak locomotive engineer Brandon Bostian that ended last week in his acquittal on all charges, has a long and complex history.

In the end it came down to a decision about whether what Bostian did and didn’t do while at the controls of an Amtrak train on May 12, 2015, was a mistake or criminal behavior.

On March 4, a jury in Philadelphia deliberated for 90 minutes before acquitting Bostian of eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and more than 200 counts of reckless endangerment.

The number of counts brought in the case matches the number of deaths and injuries that occurred when Amtrak Train 188 derailed at Frankford Junction at milepost 81.62 in Philadelphia while traveling from Washington to New York.

Of the 253 aboard, eight were killed and 185 were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment of injuries.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation later determined the train was traveling 106 miles per hour as it entered a 50-mph curve.

NTSB investigators concluded that Bostian lost “situational awareness,” possibly due to being distracted by radio reports of rocks being thrown at trains in the vicinity of where the derailment occurred.

Had he been convicted, Bostian could have been sentenced to life in prison.

The prosecution of Bostian has been in and out of court since May 2017.

Initially, a Philadelphia district attorney declined to charge Bostian, saying he did not believe there was enough evidence to prove that he had consciously disregarded a “substantial and unjustifiable risk.”

A month later, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro brought charges against Bostian after families of the victims of the derailment invoked a state law that forced authorities to act.

Those charges were dismissed twice. In September 2017 Judge Thomas F. Gehret of Philadelphia Municipal Court concluded Bostian bore no criminal responsibility for the derailment because it appeared to have been an accident.

Another judge, Barbara McDermott, of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, made a similar ruling in July 2019 in dismissing charges against Bostian, ruling that mistakes he made did not constitute a crime.

In May 2020, though, Judge Victor P. Stabile of Pennsylvania Superior Court, found that Judge McDermott had improperly considered evidence that should have been considered at trial and sent the case back to a trial court for the case to be heard by a jury.

That jury was empaneled earlier this year. During closing arguments, Bostian’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, argued Bostian had become distracted.

“I explained to the jury that good people make honest mistakes every day, and it’s not criminal conduct,” McMonagle told reporters.

After the jury returned its verdicts, Shapiro said he respected its decision. Attorneys who have just lost in court often make such statements.

One fact from the NTSB investigation may have played a role in why the case wound up before a jury.

Investigators determined that Bostian had accelerated the train’s speed shortly before coming up to the curve at Frankford Junction, where the four-track Northeast Corridor connects with a New Jersey Transit line to Atlantic City and a Conrail freight line.

The NTSB said the acceleration suggested Bostian was in control of the train rather than having become incapacitated. He also put the train into emergency braking upon realizing where he was.

The report also found the engineer of a nearby Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train had made an emergency stop after his train was struck by a projectile.

Bostian, the NTSB report said, was accelerating because he thought he was beyond the 50-mph curve and in a place where the top authorized speed was 110 mph.

At the time of the derailment, the area where the derailment occurred did not have a positive train control system in operation. The NTSB said that might have prevented the derailment by slowing the train before it reached the curve.

The judge in Bostian’s trial did not allow the jury to hear that piece of information.

In the end that didn’t matter. The jury may have believed Bostian had erred but had not engaged in criminal behavior.

Shapiro said in a statement after the trial there was no doubt that the derailment resulted from excessive speed and resulted in death and injury to Bostian’s passengers and for that he was responsible.

“Our goal throughout this long legal process was to seek justice for each and every victim, and help bring victims’ families and their loved ones closure.” Shapiro said.

In October 2016 Amtrak agreed to pay up to $265 million to the victims of the derailment and their families in one of the largest settlements related to a train derailment in the United States.

In reading Shapiro’s statement about seeking justice for the victims of the derailment, I was reminded of something a political science professor I had in a course titled Introduction to the Legal System said on the first day of class.

“Don’t talk to me about justice. Law is rights and wrongs and remedies. Justice is what they argue about upstairs in the philosophy department.”

Whether justice was or was not served by the outcome of Bostian’s criminal trial will depend on your point of view. No matter how the jury ruled, someone would have thought it was an injustice.

As for Bostian, his name now will fade from news accounts and become a footnote in Amtrak history.

But he will never be able to quite overcome the damage his good name has suffered. He will always be the guy who was in the engineer’s seat when Train 188 derailed.

Nor will he be able to forget how a few seconds in what was otherwise just another day at work changed the course of his life in ways he’ll never be able to quite overcome.

Everyone can agree on one thing. They wish it had never happened. Yet that is one wish that will never be granted.

Ex-Amtrak Engineer Acquitted on All Counts

March 7, 2022

A Philadelphia jury last week acquitted former Amtrak locomotive engineer Brandon Bostian on all criminal charges in connection with a 2015 derailment on the Northeast Corridor that left eight dead and scores injured.

News reports indicated the jury returned the verdicts of “not guilty” after 90 minutes of deliberation.

The derailment occurred on May 12, 2015, after Train 188 entered a 50 mile-per-hour curve traveling at 106 mph.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that Bostian had lost “situational awareness” just before the derailment. The board said that may have occurred because he had been listening to radio reports of rocks being thrown at other trains in the vicinity of the derailment site in North Philadelphia.

Bostian, 38, had faced criminal charges before in connection with the derailment but in those instances prosecutors had declined to continue with the case.

In the latest court action, Bostian had faced eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and hundreds of counts of reckless endangerment. 

Ex-Amtrak Engineer’s Trial Delayed

February 24, 2022

The criminal trial of a former Amtrak locomotive engineer has been delayed.

News reports indicated that the trial of Brandon Bostian, 38, which had been set to begin on Tuesday, was delayed until no sooner than Thursday due to court scheduling issues.

Bostian faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and causing a catastrophe stemming from a 2015 derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia that left eight dead.

Investigators determined that the train was speeding as it entered a curve and that Bostian had lost “situational awareness” due to being distracted by listening to reports on the radio of rocks being thrown at trains in the vicinity where the derailment occurred.

Trial of ex-Amtrak Engineer Set to Begin

February 23, 2022

A jury trial of a former Amtrak locomotive engineer charged in connection with a 2015 derailment in Philadelphia that left eight dead is set to begin this week.

Brandon Bostian, 38, faces eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and hundreds of counts of reckless endangerment.

He was at the controls of Amtrak Train 188 when it derailed on May 17, 2015.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the derailment concluded that Bostian lost “situational awareness” and allowed his train to enter a 50-mile-per-hour curve at 106 mph.

The NTSB report said Bostian may have been preoccupied by radio reports of rocks being thrown at trains in the area where the derailment occurred.

The derailment also left more than 200 passengers and crew members injured.

The trial is expected to take up to two weeks and one of the key questions for jurors to answer is whether what Bostian did was a mistake or criminal behavior.

Tonti: Site of Amtrak’s First Fatal Derailment

February 5, 2022

Looking north on the CN Champaign Subdivision at Tonti, Illinois. The June 10, 1971 derailment began just beyond that switch.
A battered sign identifies Tonti, Illinois. Shown is the crossing of CN and County Road 20

Tonti, Illinois, is a mere wide spot in the road with a few houses, a business catering to agriculture, and a grade crossing on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National.

On June 10, 1971, Tonti briefly occupied the national spotlight as the location of Amtrak’s first fatal train derailment, which left 11 dead and 163 injured.

That was the most fatalities in a derailment involving an Amtrak train until the Jan. 4, 1987, derailment of the northbound Colonial at Chase, Maryland, which collided with three Conrail locomotives that had failed to stop for a red signal. The Chase collision left 16 dead.

I was reminded of the Tonti derailment this week when the first quarter 2022 issue of Passenger Train Journal arrived in my mailbox.

It contains a story written by Robert P. Schmidt about what caused Amtrak’s first fatal derailment with the author describing it as the culmination of a series of events that if any one of them had occurred in isolation would not have led to a serious accident.

Accompanying the story are photographs, some of which I’ve never seen before.

Reading that story reminded me that I visited Tonti in early August 2012 while railfanning the former Illinois Central mainline from Effingham to Centralia.

That prompted me to dig into a digital folder to find photographs I had almost forgotten that I had made.

The story of the Tonti derailment has been told many times although as usually happens with such events they tend to get forgotten or relegated to footnote status.

The train was the southbound City of New Orleans, which at the time was operating as Illinois Central Train 1. The operating crew was employed by the IC, which also owned the four locomotives and the train’s 15 passenger cars.

It was a transition era. The passenger equipment carried no Amtrak markings or heralds. The IC herald on the nose of the lead locomotive have been painted over.

That was typical in Amtrak’s early weeks when the newly-formed company had a skeletal staff and its host railroads operated, staffed and maintained equipment and trains that these companies had, by and large,operated before Amtrak began on May 1, 1971.

Train 1 had departed Chicago Central Station at 8 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 1:30 a.m. the next day. It had left its scheduled stop in Effingham at 11:53 a.m., nearly a half hour late.

The IC operator at Edgewood reported No. 1 past at 12:05 p.m. Unknown to the crew or any of the railroad employees who inspected the train as it passed them, the axles of two wheels in the trailing tuck of lead engine E8A No. 4031 had locked and slid along the rails for 27 miles after No. 1 departed Effingham. One of those wheels developed a 10-inch flat spot and a false flange.

Twenty-miles south of Edgewood, No. 1 came to a crossover at Tonti. Just beyond the crossover switch was a turnout for a business track to a grain elevator that diverged from the southbound mainline track.

This section of the IC had an automatic train stop system and passenger trains were authorized speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour. No. 1 averaged 97 mph between Effingham and Tonti.

Engineer Lacy Haney would say later he felt a bump as the 4031 passed over the south crossover switch and then noticed his locomotive start to derail. The locomotive turned over on its right side and slid on the ground nearly 400 feet.

Haney and his fireman survived the crash and crawled out the side of the engine facing upward.

Six passenger cars and the baggage car also turned over on their sides. The remaining eight cars remained upright but most had jackknifed.

Six of those killed were ejected through broken windows and trapped beneath the side of their coach.

Many of the injured were taken to a hospital in nearby Salem. Most of the first responders came from there and the IC presented the town with a plaque recognizing the townspeople for their help. Some even took passengers from the train into their homes until they could continue their journey or return home.

The plaque, which is now in the Salem Area Historical Museum, has attached to it a silver plated bent spike from the derailment site.

One passenger who was killed in the derailment was never identified and is buried in the Salem cemetery. A headstone was donated by a local funeral home director.

Accidents are part of any transportation company’s history. Amtrak’s deadliest crash occurred Sept. 22, 1993, when the Sunset Limited struck an out-of-alignment bridge at Big Bayou Canot in Alabama, leaving 47 dead.

The City of New Orleans would be involved in a derailment on March 15, 1999, that left 11 dead. The southbound train, by now numbered No. 59, struck a truck at a grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

* * * * *

Aug. 4, 2012, was a warm sunny day in south central Illinois as I set out to follow the former IC mainline. I had planned to stop in Tonti to see the location of a derailment I had read about many times.

Much has changed since 1971, including Amtrak operations. Five months after the derailment of IC No. 1, Amtrak renumbered all of its trains.

The Chicago-New Orleans trains were numbered 58 and 59, placed on an overnight schedules and renamed the Panama Limited. The CONO name was revived on Feb. 1, 1981.

Amtrak didn’t want much of IC’s passenger locomotives and cars and by middle to late summer 1971, they were being replaced with equipment with different railroad heritages. It wasn’t long before that equipment had taken on an Amtrak identity.

Starting in May 1989, IC began single tracking its mainline between Chicago and Memphis in favor of passing sidings and centralized traffic control.

In Tonti, that meant removing the southbound mainline track and the crossover that had figured in the 1971 derailment.

Although the business track in Tonti was retained, by the time I got there in 2012 the grain elevator had been razed and the business track made into a stub-end track that ends before County Road 20 (a.k.a Tonti Road).

A farm-oriented business still exists on the site and perhaps it gets occasional bulk shipments such as fertilizer.

Also gone is the grade crossing of County Road 900. Aerial photographs of the derailment show overturned cars on their sides blocking that road.

My stay in Tonti was brief.  I snapped a few photographs and continued southward. It was quiet and no CN or Amtrak trains were nearby. In fact, I would not see a CN train the rest of the day.

Nor did I find a historical marker or monument commemorating the 1971 derailment.

I did discover while conducting research for this article that in 2003 a band known as the Chicago Kingsnakes released a song titled Tonti Train Wreck.

You can also find some YouTube programs containing photos made of the derailment.

As for what the site looks like today, the top two photographs are looking north toward the derailment site.

In the distance is the bridge carrying Interstate 57 over the tracks. At least two drivers on that highway that day saw the derailment unfolding below them.

One of them got off at the next exit and found a gas station from which to call for help.

I presume the switch to the business siding is still where it was in 1971. The crossover switches would have been just beyond that.

The derailed train came to rest in the area between the I-57 bridge and the area you can see closest to the camera.

Photographs from 1971 show the property on both sides of the tracks to have been an open area then. Trees have since grown up along both sides of the tracks.

I wouldn’t say the Tonti derailment has been forgotten. But like any historical event, it takes on lesser importance as the population comes to be dominated by those who did not live through it.

In a sidebar article in the aforementioned issue of Passenger Train Journal, Preston Cook wrote that the legacy of the Tonti derailment was the development of training programs for first responders as to how to best respond to a passenger train derailment.

That has included planned coordination of responses to railroad accidents and training of first responders to educate them on the unique qualities of rail transportation.

The National Transportation Safety Board had recommended such improvements in its report on the Tonti derailment.

* * * * *

I’m thinking of going back to Tonti this year, perhaps in late spring or early summer to photograph Amtrak’s southbound Saluki passing through at about the same time as IC No. 1 did 50 years ago.

Amtrak No. 391 operates on a schedule similar to what IC’s City of New Orleans followed for many years.

It’s doubtful that many Amtrak passengers riding through Tonti today know about what happened there 50 years ago.

I wonder how many of the Amtrak operating personnel know about it or ever think about that wreck as they rush through.

Some disasters are the subject of books and inspire movies. Others may be remembered by the occasional magazine or newspaper article, particularly on an anniversary of the disaster.

Eventually, they all wind up occupying only a distant part of our collective consciousness.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Amtrak Cascades 501 Derailment Engineer Wants Job Back

June 2, 2021

The locomotive engineer who was at the controls of an Amtrak Cascades train that derailed in December 2017 is still trying to get his operating license back and resume his career.

But in an interview with the Seattle Times, Steven Brown, 59, said he recognizes that is unlikely.

Brown said he knew Cascades No. 501 was speeding as it entered a 30-mph curve at 80 mph on Dec. 18, 2017, at DuPont, Washington.

But he thought the train could make it through the curve and even though he also knew “it was going to be uncomfortable.” Instead the train derailed and some passenger cars landed on Interstate 5 below.

Three passengers were killed and 65 others injured in the derailment. A subsequent investigation determined the train was traveling 78 mph when it derailed.

Amtrak fired Brown for violating safety rules and the Federal Railroad Administration suspended his license.

Brown told the newspaper he relives the derailment “all day” during his waking hours. He had become a locomotive engineer in 2013 after working nine years as a conductor.

“I was satisfied with where I got in life. I was really, truly, happy,” he said. “In an unbelievable instant, it’s all gone.”

The derailment left Bown with broken ribs, a broken jaw and cheekbone, compressed vertebrae, and elbow damage requiring partial replacement.

The incident occurred during the first trip of an Amtrak train on the Point Defiance bypass. Amtrak immediately ceased using the route and has yet to return to it although it will conduct crew qualification runs on the line between June 1 and July 25.

Engineers will be required to complete at least six practice round trips and a series of 10-hour days mimicking the actual operating schedules.

Brown said he had made one southbound run and two northbound trips as an engineer as well as seven to 10 observational trips.

Empire Builder Derails in Montana on July 29

June 8, 2020

One passenger and three crew members were treated at a hospital and several others suffered minors injured in a May 29 derailment of Amtrak’s westbound Empire near Bainville, Montana.

The derailment occurred after the train struck a tractor at a rural crossing. The driver of the tractor was killed.

The collision caused a fire in the lead P42DC. The trailing unit and most of the eight cars left the rails but did not overturn.

No. 7/27 was traveling an estimated 75 miles per hour at the time of the collision, which closed the BNSF mainline for several hours.

Court Rules Amtrak Engineer Can be Tried on Charges Stemming From Fatal Derailment

May 15, 2020

A Pennsylvania appeals court has ruled that an Amtrak locomotive engineer involved in a 2015 derailment that left eight dead can be tried criminally for the deaths and injuries.

Charges against Brandon Bostian had been dismissed last July but a state Superior Court Judge on Thursday ruled that that dismissal was based on fact-finding that should happen during a trial.

A Common Pleas Court judge last year ruled Bostian’s behavior before the crash did not rise to criminal recklessness.

The trial court judge had accepted a contention by the defendant’s attorney that Bostian had become confused about where he was when he accelerated the speed of his train without realizing a curve was ahead of him.

However, Superior Court Judge Victor Stabile said that contention should be evaluated in a trial, not by a judge in a pretrial hearing.

Stabile ruled that a trial court judge’s role in a pre-trial proceeding is to determine whether the state presented enough evidence to warrant a trial.

The appeals court judge ruled that prosecutors had met that burden.

An attorney for Bostian said he would appeal the ruling enabling his client to go to trial on criminal charges.

Investigators have said Northeast Regional No. 188 was traveling at 106 mph, more than twice the posted speed limit, into a curve in Port Richmond north of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

The subsequent derailment resulted in more than 150 injuries.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General has filed 216 counts of reckless endangerment, one count of causing a catastrophe, and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter against Bostian. Stabile’s ruling reinstates those charges.

The National Transportation Safety Board report on the derailment said Bostian had no alcohol or drugs in his system and was not using his cell phone at the time of the derailment.

The Amtrak engineer told NTSB investigators that he couldn’t remember why he didn’t slow the train as it approached the curve.

No Injuries in Auto Train Derailment; Silver Service Not Operating South of Jacksonville

March 28, 2020

No passengers were hurt but an Amtrak crew member suffered a foot injury in the Thursday derailment of the northbound Auto Train.

The derailment occurred less than 20 miles north of the DeLand, Florida, station at about 4:15 p.m.

Nine auto rack cars derailed but all of the passenger cars remained on the tracks.

News reports indicated that an unspecified track problem caused the derailment.

The passenger cars were able to continue their journey after an inspection.

The train was carrying 294 passengers and 23 crew members.

Amtrak canceled the Auto Train in both directions on Friday and the Silver Meteor and Silver Star originated in Jacksonville, Florida, rather than Miami.

Amtrak said this morning in a Twitter service alert that both Silver Service trains of March 28 would continue to originate in Jacksonville and that no alternative transportation is being provided for the missed stations.

The carrier will provide alternative transportation on Saturday south of Jacksonville only to discharge passengers.