Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Silver Star’

Amtrak Pays Victims of its Accidents Even if the Host Railroad is at Fault or Negligent in its Cause

February 12, 2018

Based on information released by the National Transportation Safety Board, the cause of the collision in South Carolina that left two Amtrak crew members dead seems pretty straightforward.

A switch had been left open, thus routing the southbound Silver Star into a head-on crash with a parked CSX auto rack train.

That might seem to be the fault of a CSX employee although it’s possible the switch could have been tampered with by someone else.

The NTSB is expected to release its report on the cause of the accident more than year from now.

Whatever the cause of the accident, Amtrak likely will wind up paying the money that will go to those filing lawsuits in the wake of the crash.

It won’t matter if CSX is found to have sole responsibility for the accident, Amtrak likely will pay the claims.

The accident on Feb. 4 in Cayce, South Carolina, has trained the spotlight again on a little-known fact about Amtrak’s relationships with its host railroads.

Agreements between the passenger carrier and its host railroads leave Amtrak responsible for paying the legal claims that stem from accidents.

The exact language of those contracts has been kept secret at the insistence of the railroads and Amtrak, say lawyers who have been involved in legal proceedings involving Amtrak and a host railroad.

Amtrak has track use contracts with 30 railroads and all of them are “no fault” agreements.

As explained by an Amtrak executive in a September 2017 seminar hosted by the Federal Highway Administration, that means Amtrak takes full responsibility for its property and passengers and the injuries of anyone hit by a train.

A host railroad is only responsible for its property and employees.

Amtrak manager Jim Blair said at the seminar that this was “a good way for Amtrak and the host partners to work together to get things resolved quickly and not fight over issues of responsibility.”

It doesn’t matter if the host railroad was negligent in causing the crash.

It wasn’t always that way, but things changed after a 1987 crash on the Northeast Corridor at Chase, Maryland, when Amtrak’s New York-bound Colonial struck a Conrail light power move that had run a stop signal.

Sixteen died in the crash. During the investigation, authorities learned that the Conrail engineer was under the influence of marijuana at the time.

Although Conrail paid damages from the resulting lawsuits, the railroad industry began pushing for Amtrak to assume liability for damage claims resulting from accidents, even if the host railroad was at fault for the cause of the accident.

A former member of the Amtrak board of directors said that following the Chase crash, Amtrak faced “a lot of threats from the other railroads.”

The former board member spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the company’s internal legal discussions are supposed to remain confidential and he doesn’t want to harm his own business relationships by airing a contentious issue.

The Amtrak board member said management gave in to the railroad industry demands because it felt it couldn’t afford to pick a fight.

“The law says that Amtrak is guaranteed access, but it’s up to the goodwill of the railroad as to whether they’ll put you ahead or behind a long freight train,” he said.

The practice of Amtrak paying damages for accidents involving its trains was revealed in a 2004 New York Times series on railroad grade crossing safety.

Following that disclosure, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board ruled that a railroad “cannot be indemnified for its own gross negligence, recklessness, willful or wanton misconduct,” said a 2010 letter by then-Surface Transportation Board chairman Dan Elliott to members of Congress.

That ruling gives Amtrak grounds to pursue gross negligence claims against freight railroads. However, Amtrak has declined to do so.

“If Amtrak felt that if they didn’t want to pay, they’d have to litigate it,” said Elliott, now an attorney at the law firm of Conner & Winters.

The Associated Press reported in the wake of the Cayce crash that it was unable to find any case in which Amtrak pursued a claim against a freight railroad since the Chase incident.

AP said it asked Amtrak, CSX and the Association of American Railroads to identify any example within the last decade of a railroad contributing to a settlement or judgment in a passenger rail accident that occurred on its track. However, none would provide such an example.

Robert L. Potrroff is a member of a Kansas law firm that specializes in railroad accident litigation, told the AP that even in a case in which establishing gross negligence by a freight railroad is possible he has never seen any indication that the railroad and Amtrak are at odds.

“You’ll frequently see Amtrak hire the same lawyers the freight railroads use,” he said.

Another attorney, Ron Goldman, who has represented passenger rail accident victims, said he has long been curious whether it was Amtrak or freight railroads that ended up paying for settlements and judgments.

“The question of how they share that liability is cloaked in secrecy,” he said. “The money is coming from Amtrak when our clients get the check.”

Pottroff said he has long thought that Amtrak should fight its contract railroads on liability matters because it would make safety a larger financial consideration for them. He also said there is a fairness issue at stake.

Following the Chase crash, a federal judge ruled that forcing Amtrak to take financial responsibility for “reckless, wanton, willful, or grossly negligent acts by Conrail” was contrary to good public policy.

Pontroff is representing clients who have sued Amtrak and CSX following last week’s South Carolina crash, but doesn’t expect CSX to pay any settlements or judgments.

“Amtrak has a beautiful defense — the freight railroad is in control of all [of] the infrastructure,” he said. “[But] Amtrak always pays.”

The railroad industry contends that it has ample incentive to keep tracks safe for employees, customers and investors.

“Our goal remains zero accidents,” said CSX spokesman Bryan Tucker in a statement to the Associated Press.

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CSX Employee Gave Wrong Info About Switch

February 7, 2018

A Jacksonville, Florida, newspaper reported on Tuesday that incorrect information provided by a CSX employee helped lead to a head-on collision early Sunday morning between a CSX auto rack train and Amtrak’s Silver Star.

Two Amtrak employees were killed in the collision in Cayce, South Carolina, and 116 were injured.

The Jacksonville Business Journal said it based its report on CSX records that it obtained and a source the newspaper did not name.

Those documents show that Amtrak’s New York to Miami No. 91 had stopped five miles before the collision site.

At the time, the signal system in that area had been off since 8 a.m. on Saturday as work progressed to install positive train control.

After a CSX conductor at the site informed the dispatcher that a manual control switch had been moved back into its normal position, the dispatcher cleared the Amtrak train to proceed.

However, the switch had not been restored and Amtrak No. 91 was routed into the path of the parked auto rack train, which did not have a crew on board at the time of the collision.

With the signal system turned off, dispatchers were governing movement in the area with track warrants.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt has told reporters during press briefings that the CSX auto rack train had backed into the siding after working at an auto facility.

Sumwalt said investigators discovered that the switch that had been opened to enable the CSX train to move into the siding was locked with a padlock in the open position.

Amtrak No. 91 had 149 passengers and eight crew members on board at the time of the crash.

Signal System Had Been Turned Off to Install PTC

February 6, 2018

Some news accounts of the head-on collision between an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train in South Carolina early Sunday morning mentioned that the signal system in place on the line had been turned off.

There was a reason for that. CSX crews were working to cut in a positive train control system on the route, the same system that National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said might have prevented the crash.

During a news conference on Monday afternoon, Sumwalt said Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star was operating with track warrants in temporarily dark territory.  See a post below for an account of the final seconds before the crash.

Crews for Amtrak and CSX were in verbal contact with the dispatcher controlling that stretch of track where the work was being performed, which is the Columbia Subdivision of the Florence Division.

Sumwalt said NTSB investigators have thus far not found any problems with the track where the collision occurred in Cayce, South Carolina.

Earlier NTSB news briefings said that a switch had been left aligned to route Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX auto rack train, which was sitting on a siding without a crew onboard.

The collision, which destroyed Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and CSX AC44CW Nos. 130 resulted in an Amtrak engineer and conductor being killed.

Sumwalt said the NTSB inquiry will be broader than the mechanics of how the crash occurred.

“It is very important that we look at each of these incidents in isolation to determine if there are systemic issues,” Sumwalt, making reference to other incidents involving Amtrak in recent months. “Last Wednesday, it was a garbage truck that was on the track. We aren’t sure what happened here [and] why that switch was lined for the siding. We do look at safety culture issues and we did a report in October.”

That report, which reviewed an April 2016 incident in the Northeast Corridor in Pennsylvania that left two Amtrak maintenance of way workers dead, was critical of Amtrak’s lack of an effective safety culture.

NTSB Says Amtrak Engineer Applied Brakes, Sounded Horn Before Collision With CSX Train

February 5, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday afternoon that the engineer of Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star had applied the train brakes seconds before it struck a parked CSX freight train in a siding in Cayce, South Carolina.

The engineer also sounded his locomotive’s horn for three seconds.

NTSB investigators have said that a misaligned switch routed Amtrak train No. 91 into the path of the CSX train, which did not have a crew aboard at the time of the collision early Sunday  morning.

Chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators found the data event recorders of Amtrak P42DC No. 47 undamaged in the wreckage.

The Amtrak engineer and an Amtrak conductor in the cab of the locomotive were killed in the crash, which also left 116 people aboard the train injured.

Sumwalt said the data showed that seven seconds before impact, the locomotive horn sounded for three seconds. The train was traveling at 56 miles per hour at that point, which was slightly slower than the 59 mph top speed allowed at that location.

Five seconds before impact, the brake pipe pressure began decreasing, indicating that the train brakes were being applied. The engineer had also moved the throttle from full to idle, which dropped the train’s speed to 54 miles an hour.

Three seconds before the collision, the emergency brakes were applied.

Sumwalt said the force of the collision moved the lead CSX locomotive 15 feet back from its location.

The switch that is the focus of the investigation was described as a hand-thrown switch that was found to have been locked into position to route a train from a mainline track into a siding.

The CSX train was sitting stationary 659 feet from the switch. Sumwalt indicated that aligning the switch for a straight move on the main would have been the responsibility of a CSX employee.

“We want to understand why that was the case,” Sumwalt said of why the switch was aligned as it was.

He said investigators found no mechanical problems with the switch.

Thus far, NTSB personnel have interviewed the CSX engineer, conductor, dispatcher, and a trainmaster. They plan to interview the surviving Amtrak crew members on Tuesday.

Earlier reports indicated that the signal system in the area of the crash was in the process of being upgraded and that trains were operating under track warrants issued by the dispatcher.

Sumwalt declined to reveal what the CSX employees said during the interviews.

He also declined to assess any blame. “I’m confident that our investigators will be able to piece this back together,” Sumwalt said.

2 Dead, 110 Hurt After Silver Star Collides Head-on With CSX Auto Rack Train in South Carolina

February 5, 2018

Two Amtrak crew members were killed and more than 100 injured early Sunday morning when the Miami-bound Silver Star was misrouted into the path of a parked CSX freight train.

The accident happened at 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, South Carolina, about 10 miles south of a the train’s previous station stop at Columbia, South Carolina.

Officials said Train No. 91 had 147 aboard and 110 of them were reported to have suffered injuries ranging from minor cuts to broken bones. Nine of those aboard were Amtrak employees.

Killed were Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella, 36 of Orange Park, Florida.

Dr. Eric Brown, the executive physician for Palmetto Health,  said six people were admitted to hospitals for more severe injuries, including head trauma.

National Transportation Board Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said on Sunday afternoon that the switch had been manually “lined and locked” to divert the Amtrak train into the freight train.

“Of course key to this investigation is learning why that switch was lined that way because the expectation is the Amtrak would be cleared and would be operating straight down,” Sumwalt said.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during a conference call with reporters that before the crash the Amtrak crew was communicating with a CSX dispatcher by phone because a signaling system that governs traffic in the area was down for maintenance.

Authorities said investigators are still trying to determine how fast the Silver Star was going at the time of the collision, but the top speed there is 59 mph.

Sumwalt said the CSX train had two locomotives and 34 empty auto rack cars. It had unloaded automobiles on the west side of the main line and then used it to back into a siding on the east side of the main line.

“We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock to make it lined to go into the siding,” Sumwalt said of the switch on the main.

He said investigators will focus on why the switch wasn’t restored to its normal position before Amtrak No. 91 arrived.

NTSB personnel at the scene retrieved a front-facing video camera from Amtrak P42DC No. 47 and sent to their laboratory in Washington for review. The train’s event data recorder had not been located as of Sunday evening.

“I can tell you there’s catastrophic damage to each of the locomotives,” Sumwalt said. “In fact, I would say that the Amtrak locomotive would be not recognizable at all.”

The consist of the Amtrak train included a P42 locomotive, three Amfleet coaches, an Amfleet cafe lounge, two Viewliner sleepers and a baggage car.

Sumwalt said the crash could have been avoided if positive train control had been in operation at the time.

About 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel was spilled after the collision, but authorities said it posted “no threat to the public at the time.”

Passengers who were not injured or had been treated for injuries were taken to a middle school for shelter.

They were later put aboard chartered buses to continue their journey southward.

Cary NC Ranked Amtrak’s Top Station

November 15, 2017

A customer satisfaction survey has found Cary, North Carolina, to have the highest-rated Amtrak station.

The station, which is served by the Piedmont, Carolinian and Silver Star trains, earned the highest score for “overall station experience” with a score of 97 percent.

The Cary station topped more than 450 Amtrak stations across the country.

The survey asked Amtrak passengers to judge stations based on such criteria as cleanliness, safety, clarity of signs, friendliness of station workers and ease in boarding trains.

Cary served 85,000 passengers in 2016 boarding and alighting from eight trains a day. The station was built in 1996 to replace a depot that was razed in the 1970s. It is the fourth busiest Amtrak station in North Carolina.

Track Work Affects 2 Amtrak Trains

October 24, 2017

Amtrak said in a service advisory that track work being performed by Central Florida Rail will affect the northbound Silver Star schedule on Oct. 27.

Train 92 that departs Miami will operate as Train 1192 and depart all stations 2 hours, 35 minutes earlier than the normal Silver Star schedule.

In a similar development, track work being performed by CSX will affect Northeast Regional Train 83 between in Virginia between Richmond and Newport News on Nov. 3.

It will operate normally from Boston to Richmond-Staples Mill Road, but will not stop at Richmond-Main Street, Williamsburg or Newport News. Alternate transportation will not be provided.

Amtrak Restoring Southeast Service

September 18, 2017

Amtrak said on Monday that all trains to and from Florida will return to regular operations after service was temporarily disrupted due to severe weather stemming from Hurricane Irma.

The Silver Meteor from New York to Miami will resume scheduled service on Tuesday (Sept, 19) while its northbound counterpart will depart Miami for the first time on Wednesday (Sept. 20)

The Silver Star will will resume scheduled service between Jacksonville and Miami on Tuesday while its northbound counterpart will resume departing from Miami on Thursday (Sept. 21.) The Star is currently operating only between New York and Jacksonville.

No Word on Restoration of Amtrak SE Service

September 18, 2017

As of mid afternoon today, Amtrak has not said when full service will be restored to the Southeast.

The latest service advisory was posted on Friday afternoon and indicated that the Silver Star had been restored between New York and Jacksonville, Florida.

However, the Silver Meteor remains suspended over its entire route between New York and Miami, and the Silver Star is not operating south of Jacksonville.

The Auto-Train was to be fully restored today in both directions.

Amtrak Begins Restoring Southeast Service

September 14, 2017

Amtrak service restoration to the Southeast begins today when the southbound Palmetto will resume service from New York to Savannah, Georgia.

The northbound Palmetto will operate for the first time on Friday since being suspended in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irma last weekend.

The service restoration also includes related Amtrak Thruway Bus connections.

The Silver Star will resume operation on Friday between New York and Jacksonville, Florida. The trains will add a stop at Jesup, Georgia.

Service remains suspended between Jacksonville and Miami via via Orlando and Tampa.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said the New York-Miami Silver Meteor and the Auto Train between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, remain suspended. No service resumption date was provided in the service advisory.