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Amtrak Train 91-CSX collision in SC (2/4/18)/Liability issues

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neroden

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Also Chicago Union Station I believe.
Correct, Amtrak owns from just east of the Lumber Street Bridge through to Union Station, and AFAIk out the other side (north) of Union Station up to the diamonds where the tracks cross the leads coming out of Olgilvie Station. They also own a small bit of track running west, basically the wye they use to turn trains up until the start of BNSF territory. The dispatch office for all of this, as well as the Michigan line sits below the tower in the Lumber Street Yard.

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Interesting. I am not sure where the north-end ownership boundary between Amtrak and Metra is, or where the dispatching boundary is. (These are often different, for operational convenience reasons). Thanks to DSS&A for specifying that the ownership boundary is at Clinton Street.

The dispatching office has indeed been relocated into Chicago Union Station, in a hidden location somewhere inside the building with the Great Hall. I visited it last year and it was fascinating. In addition to the immediate vicinity of CUS, and the portions of the Michigan Line owned by Amtrak and the state (this excludes segments on NS, on CN in Battle Creek, on Conrail east of Dearborn, and on CN out to Pontiac), they do also dispatch Amtrak's New Orleans trackage.
 

JRR

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It’s a good article. It points out that willful, wanton and grossly negligent acts are not covered by the agreement.

However, when one has an ongoing relationship, it’s not necessarily an easy judgment to make as one has to consider the effect on the long term relationship.

One would hope that behind the scene negotiations could resolve the matter without a suit being necessary.

In this case, not only does the ongoing relation with CSX need to be considered, but also how a lawsuit against CSX might affect relationships with other hosts.

Business judgments in cases like these need to be wisely and carefully made.

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dlagrua

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I sure hope that this Associated Press article is not true as it implies that the private railroads bear no responsibility for any and all accidents involving Amtrak on their rails.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/02/11/in-secret-deal-tax-backed-amtrak-pays-for-private-railroads-screwups-report.html

If this truly is the case then CSX in the recent SC accident bears no fault and no responsibility for the accident. Amtrak pays the bill. If true this is alarming. What do our informed forum members know about this??
 

jis

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This is nothing new. It has been true for a long long time. There may be some exceptions carved out by courts in specific cases. But the general regulation is indeed as described in the article. Of course, damages payment is also capped by the same law.
 

tricia

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Link to the original AP article is posted in the thread about recent collision with CSX freight train.

MODERATOR NOTE: the new thread was merged into the existing thread.
 
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dlagrua

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Amtrak will pay, but there's nothing to say that Amtrak can't sue CSX in return.
I read the situation as the private railroads having a no fault agreement with Amtrak. If that is the case then Amtrak cannot sue for negligence. I am not a lawyer and have never read the agreement but if I read the news article correctly, the private railroads have zero liability and its all on Amtrak.
 

JRR

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See my prior comments re exceptions to contractual waiver and business considerations.

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neroden

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This case sure looks like gross negligence, recklessness, and wanton misconduct -- something which CSX has developed an unfortunate record of, if you remember the Congressional investigations over failure to maintain the tracks on the Empire Corridor about a decade ago.

At some point Amtrak has to stop covering for grossly negligent behavior by CSX. Specifically CSX. If I were Anderson, I'd tell the other railroad execs that this is nothing to do with them, and is entirely about CSX not behaving like a railroad.

The situation at CSX is actually a complete disaster in every way; freight shippers are turning to trucks because of the mismanagement. It's unfortunate that we don't really have a functioning federal government right now, because it's looking to me like it's going to end up requiring government intervention to prevent the complete collapse of freight and passenger service on CSX lines. Short of federal intervention, it would seem wise for states to grab the lines before service fails completely. (Not that I expect the state of SC to do so.)
 

Thirdrail7

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If I understand anything about the law (and I really don't,) I'd think Amtrak would have a hard time proving gross negligence when someone left a switch open. It is one thing they were told the switch was open and CSX said "Who cares," or failed to maintain the switch and it opened on its own.

It will be hard to prove human error is gross negligence on CSX part....unless you prove the cutbacks caused the loss of the switch tenders, which caused a dangerous condition. However, CSX would just toss it back to the crew.

This is the ONE thing keep Amtrak in business: Liability. Most private companies don't want much part of the no fault liability requirements the hosts want to impose in exchange for access to their territory.
 

JRR

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You would be surprised what terms are in construction contracts and sub contracts.

The hey here is we don’t know the facts. They may or may not support a claim of gross negligence against CSX or its employees and even if the facts may support such allegations, we don’t know how strong the evidence may be or whether it would be a good business decision to pursue such an action.

Eventually, we will learn more of the facts and then maybe we can debate whether or not Amtrak did the proper thing.

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Lonestar648

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It may be that if Amtrak could sue the Host RR, they would not be able to get an agreement to run on that Host. If CSX was sued by Amtrak, I am sure all trains running on CSX would have difficulty with dispatching. Then when the contract came up for renewal, CSX could refuse the contract, thus ending Amtrak service over CSX which would be catastrophic to Amtrak.
 

xyzzy

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1. Anyone can sue anyone else for just about anything. Winning a judgment at trial or an advantageous settlement from negotiation is another matter. This matter will take years to play out in the courts. Let's just wait and see.

2. After the dollars have been determined, who ultimately pays them pursuant to insurance and indemnification clauses is another wait-and-see that will take even longer to reveal.

3. What's gross negligence and what isn't is likely to be decided by a South Carolina jury, within the latitude that the law gives... assuming the case actually goes to a jury. Lawyers on both sides are often reluctant to let that happen.

4. I do agree with Lonestar648 that Amtrak is unlikely to pick an eight-figures fight with CSX. The other host railroads would take note and react defensively.
 

VentureForth

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A couple of other thoughts that were implied in the article...

The indemnity clause only requires Amtrak to take fiduciary responsibility to their equipment, employees and passengers. In other words, they have to take full responsibility. Not clear - but not likely - that Amtrak would pay to repair the tracks and the damaged CSX equipment.

There's a slight possibility that CSX could pay out to passengers through Amtrak; the check would certainly come from Amtrak. There is a PR war brewing here - if CSX doesn't show public remorse or responsibility, it could black out their already tarnished image.
 
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John Bredin

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The indemnity clause only requires Amtrak to take fiduciary responsibility to their equipment, employees and passengers. In other words, they have to take full responsibility. Not clear - but not likely - that Amtrak would pay to repair the tracks and the damaged CSX equipment.
I was under the impression that the very object of these clauses in Amtrak's contracts with the host railroads is that each side bears its own costs regardless of liability. Amtrak pays for its equipment, passengers, and crew, and the host pays for its tracks, equipment, freight, and crew, regardless of who was at fault. Someone will surely correct me if I am misunderstanding the arrangement.
Thus, if Amtrak through its negligence had a collision that tore up several feet of the host railroad's track, track bed, signal posts, etc, the host would absorb those costs regardless of how negligent Amtrak was. Now, as a general rule killing people is a hell of a lot more expensive than knocking over a couple of freight cars, but if my recollection is correct, this type of clause isn't quite as unconscionable or one-sided as it seems in the particular situation we're discussing.
 

neroden

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If I understand anything about the law (and I really don't,) I'd think Amtrak would have a hard time proving gross negligence when someone left a switch open. It is one thing they were told the switch was open and CSX said "Who cares," or failed to maintain the switch and it opened on its own.
However, in this case, they *padlocked the switch in the wrong position*, and then either (a) signed the federal form stating that the switch had been restored to the right position and turned it in, or (b) the dispatcher released the track without getting the form. This is pretty gross negligence. There's a specific, federally mandated (!!!!) procedure to prevent this from happening, and as far as we can tell CSX employees didn't follow it. The rules they violated have also been in the rulebook of every railroad since the *1820s*. It's not a subtle or fine point of operation -- it's not an honest mistake.

Amtrak has essentially nothing to lose by picking a fight with CSX, which is already delaying Amtrak trains unnecessarily for whatever reason. They picked a fight with CN over less, and go figure, BNSF and UP haven't been bothered by that.

An ordinary no-fault allocation in a contract is designed for ordinary accidents -- a derailment due to not noticing track damage or not noticing mechanical damage, a signal failure due to salt water or a series of small errors, perhaps even a minor overspeed error -- not a gross violation of what is perhaps the oldest rule in the rulebook, along with a falsification of a federal form designed specifically to prevent that failure!

If we discover that a vandal with skeleton keys came in and reset the switch and re-padlocked it, then maybe CSX didn't commit gross negligence -- but that seems highly unlikely!
 
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xyzzy

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I quote from a non-copyrighted work "State of South Carolina Compendium of Law" by Reynolds and Tyler:

Gross negligence is defined as "the failure to exercise [even] slight care." It has also been defined as "the intentional, conscious failure to do something which it is incumbent upon one to do or the doing of a thing intentionally that one ought not to do." Gross negligence "is a relative term, and means the absence of care that is necessary under the circumstances."

In the end, it's whatever the jury says it is unless the jury does something that the trial judge or appeals court cannot condone.
 
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Dakota 400

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Interesting discussion about the legal ramifications for CSX and Amtrak of this accident. But, what about the two men whose lives were lost? I assume that Amtrak's insurance for these employees would have compensation for the families of these men. Any idea as to what the families might be entitled?
 
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I can't help but to feel that the CSX employee or employees who are responsible for this terrible accident should face criminal charges just as any other company's employee would due to the gross negligence that has been displayed, to a very bad degree. The cost will be great for Amtrak but to the lives lost and those affected in other ways its the least that can be done.
 
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