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

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Rover

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Ok, I was watching The Pheonix Open and saw an advertisement for CBS Evening News. Third Amtrak crash in two months. The tone of the announcer wanted to make me jump through the television and strangle her.
Even though it's looking like this collision and the incident in Virginia with the GOP a few days ago weren't Amtrak's fault, to the general public it's going to look like it. I think this is really going to hurt Amtrak, which to me is sad.
Not only are the media reports going to hurt Amtrak's image, but also the lopsided indemnity agreements that force Amtrak to pay for legal costs and penalties incurred by CSX in court.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/15/us/amtrak-pays-millions-for-others-fatal-errors.html

Looks like the freight was waiting on a siding for AMTRAK to pass on the main. Somehow the passenger train was switched onto the same passing track causing a head-on that killed the AMTRAK engineer and conductor. PTC can't get here soon enough!
The signal system already in place should have prevented this. Except that it was down for maintenance. What good will PTC do when it's down for maintenance? The problem isn't our technology so much as America's continuing reluctance to embrace a genuine safety culture and our absurd reliance on disastrous cowboy logic.
Just do away with all Passenger rail service that's not on dedicated track. Or, find a way to electronically integrate a monitoring/warning system, that would prevent all of these accidents.
 

daybeers

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Ok, I was watching The Pheonix Open and saw an advertisement for CBS Evening News. Third Amtrak crash in two months. The tone of the announcer wanted to make me jump through the television and strangle her.
Even though it's looking like this collision and the incident in Virginia with the GOP a few days ago weren't Amtrak's fault, to the general public it's going to look like it. I think this is really going to hurt Amtrak, which to me is sad.
Not only are the media reports going to hurt Amtrak's image, but also the lopsided indemnity agreements that force Amtrak to pay for legal costs and penalties incurred by CSX in court.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/15/us/amtrak-pays-millions-for-others-fatal-errors.html
Wow, I didn't know that. Absolutely ridiculous...no...despicable really. Congress really needs to overturn that 1997 law, but of course they won't because of lobbying by the multi-billion-dollar freight companies. It would be great if it was like car crashes: the one at fault pays for nearly everything.

Based on Anderson's strong reaction to this crash, I truly hope he'll protect Amtrak from having to pay for it, which at least from what he has said, is CSX's fault. Of course we need to wait for the preliminary and final reports from the NTSB, though.
 

xyzzy

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NC
Tight lock couplers are a good thing. Without them all the cars might have turned sideways and rolled. Deformation of the structure of the cafe car absorbed a lot of energy and probably minimized injuries in the trailing cars. Aside from the cafe car, the Budd structure appears to have held up well under the circumstances. What the interiors of those cars are like, we can't tell from photos. As to whether there was a defect in the cafe car structure that caused it to buckle, we will have to see whether the NTSB looks into that.

According to Amtrak's Track A Train, 92(4) did not take the expected Dillon-Hamlet detour and instead is running on the CSX A-line through central NC. Given that passengers in Cary and Raleigh can take 80 which runs on about the same schedule, the only folks impacted by not running Dillon-Hamlet are passengers at Hamlet and Southern Pines, both of which are lightly patronized stations.

FWIW, Dillon-Hamlet is signaled and good for 50 mph.
 
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Green Maned Lion

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Seaboard, I understand how you feel. When we look at rail collisions, we see 2 dead and it is a statistic. I can only see it as a statistic, too. I didnt know them, and the human heart would never survive if it mourned every tragic loss in plane crashes, train crashes, car crashes, and good men like my neighbor (who I mourned because I knew him) who tragically died from a heart attack leaving three kids and an entirely unfit mother.

That above is a horrible tragedy that has left me sick for years, and you didnt even know about it. Hearing about this, I am sure you are going to feel bad about it; but you will not be affected by it the way you feel about your friends; nor should you.

So mourn them; you knew them as good men. I feel sorry that they died. I cant mourn them; I didnt know them. Since that part is what it is, I will also lament the loss of some equipment on a system that is already short of it, and a reality that while cars can be replaced, they wont be for years. In fact, and excuse my coldness, but mechanically, you cant replace a human soul, but training a new conductor and engineer is actually easier than replacing a car.

It is not unreasonable for me as a transit advocate (retired) to consider all of those practical things. That doesnt mean I dont see or understand the human tragedy; it means that saying Im sorry Amtrak lost two good men, and meaning it, is all I can do about it.
 

NTL1991

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May 7, 2011
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If this territory was operating under signal suspension, would CSX rules require trains to approach facing-point switches prepared to stop?
 

greatcats

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If the crew assignment map that I have is correct, the crew of 91 would operate between Hamlet, NC and Jacksonville, FL, a trip scheduled to take over 7 hours. This should require 2 engineers, Plus it is a middle of the night trip. Mr. Cella, one of the deceased, has been mentioned as the Conductor. It is indeed possible that he was riding the engine, or has he been mislabeled as the second engineer? If he was the Conductor, What is the status of the second engineer? Rest In Peace, gentlemen.

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City of Miami

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Not only are the media reports going to hurt Amtrak's image, but also the lopsided indemnity agreements that force Amtrak to pay for legal costs and penalties incurred by CSX in court.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/15/us/amtrak-pays-millions-for-others-fatal-errors.html
My understanding is that per the original Amtrak/Class II agreement, the private RR company will incur no liability whatsoever, no matter the circumstances, for any damage involving an Amtrak train. As twisted as it may sound I can understand the RR point of view. Simply, if the Amtrak train were not there, there would be no accident/damage for the RR to incur.
 
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greatcats

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Another thought is that a second engineer may not have been available, and the Conductor was instructed to ride the engine. Or, was he in that lounge car that was twisted in half, a really creepy sight?

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VentureForth

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In looking at the satellite image of the scene (https://www.google.com/maps/@33.9088977,-81.0669683,445a,35y,357h,1.19t/data=!3m1!1e3), it looks like the switch was a couple hundred feet before the location of the lead CSX locomotive. I only bring this up because the NTSB chairman said in his presser that the train would have surely derailed going over that switch at 59 MPH. It seems as though the train took the switch well (though no telling how the whole train would have fared at full speed).

Also curious as to whether the highway bridge (US-321) was damaged. I've been on that bridge.

The biggest complaint about the NTSB's presser was when he said that PTC would have prevented the accident. It's been mentioned in here already - but IF the system was down for any sort of maintenance, would PTC be able to recognize a switch out of place? This is the sort of hip-shooting I thought the NTSB was trained not to do. But it was mentioned, thus will be reported on.

As to the two in the cab, it sounded like it was the conductor and a single engineer. I don't think the media botched that up. In this case, because they were in dark territory, it sounds like SOP is that the conductor confirms the track warrants from the cab. Note that I've seen crew changes occur in Savannah.

I'm sad to learn that the engineer, Michael Kempf, was a fellow Savannahian.
 
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Green Maned Lion

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If the PTC was operating it wouldnt have happened. Old Yiddish proverb: If my grandmother had ****s shed be my grandfather.
 

neroden

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The so-called indemnity agreements are against public poliicy, as the judge ruled in the Chase, Maryland case. Hopefully Anderson will make a very clear case in the media for changing the law which allows CSX to get away scot-free for criminal negligence. It seems like he's ready to take a pretty hard line...
 

jis

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According to Amtrak's Track A Train, 92(4) did not take the expected Dillon-Hamlet detour and instead is running on the CSX A-line through central NC. Given that passengers in Cary and Raleigh can take 80 which runs on about the same schedule, the only folks impacted by not running Dillon-Hamlet are passengers at Hamlet and Southern Pines, both of which are lightly patronized stations.

FWIW, Dillon-Hamlet is signaled and good for 50 mph.
Raleigh, Cary, Hamlet (and presumably Southern pines) passengers were bused to suitable stations on the A-lIne to/from 91/92. Passengers from Camden through Denmark are being bused anyway.

Thirdrail had already informed us that 91(4) would run all the way on the A-Line.

Another thought is that a second engineer may not have been available, and the Conductor was instructed to ride the engine. Or, was he in that lounge car that was twisted in half, a really creepy sight?

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Both fatalities were in the engine.

Star normally runs with a single engine, as it was this day too, and I am told that the JAX - Hamlet district is long enough to require two Engineers in the cab. I am not sure exactly what the districts are, but if it is indeed JAX - Hamlet then it stands to reason that there would be two in the cab.

There was no third person in the cab, so presumably the second Engineer has been mislabeled as a Conductor in the media and press reports.
 
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railiner

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Someone posted on the Railroad.net forum topic for this. The quote is below. What are your thoughts?

This could be a problem for the Amfleets, if the cafe car snapping is found to be due (or exacerbated) to a structural defect or fatigue.
How many accident's have Amfleet cars been in, in their 40+ years of service? I do not recall them ever breaking in this manner....

The problem may be in the FRA increasing the strength requirements even more than they are now, thus making it even harder to find supplier's of new equipment in the future....
 

KnightRail

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Pause that footage when it shows what was the cafe car. If there is something positive about the outcome, it is that by some miracle that most of the energy was absorbed by car with the least occupants at the time. Dont want to imagine if a sleeper or coach absorbed the energy that the cafe did.
 

jis

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Pause that footage when it shows what was the cafe car. If there is something positive about the outcome, it is that by some miracle that most of the energy was absorbed by car with the least occupants at the time. Dont want to imagine if a sleeper or coach absorbed the energy that the cafe did.
The other thing that happened is that the anti-climber in front of the P42 did not work and it climbed over and then diverted to the side of the CSX unit, thus dissipating an enormous amount of energy. If the anti-climber had worked and the engine had come to dead stop nose to nose with the CSX unit, then the rest of the train would have had to dissipate that energy possibly leading to significant additional casualties.

Wonder if CSX employees will blame the "Harrison Cuts".
Or CSX try to blame it on sabotage.
The possibilities of conspiracy theories are endless....
 
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railiner

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One other thought comes to mind....supposing that locomotives were operated "long hood forward", in the manner that the former Norfolk and Western Railway practiced....

could that have saved the crew?

That practice probably requires two crewmember's in the cab for full visibility, so not likely to happen again....
 

MikefromCrete

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If the crew assignment map that I have is correct, the crew of 91 would operate between Hamlet, NC and Jacksonville, FL, a trip scheduled to take over 7 hours. This should require 2 engineers, Plus it is a middle of the night trip. Mr. Cella, one of the deceased, has been mentioned as the Conductor. It is indeed possible that he was riding the engine, or has he been mislabeled as the second engineer? If he was the Conductor, What is the status of the second engineer? Rest In Peace, gentlemen.

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum


As I understand it, because the signal system down and the train was running under train orders, the conductor was in the cab to copy the orders from the dispatcher. If he was back in the train, the engineer would have to stop the train in order to copy the orders. The Amtrak employees were being efficient. It appears the CSX employees were being criminally negligent.
 
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Devil's Advocate

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Based on Anderson's strong reaction to this crash, I truly hope he'll protect Amtrak from having to pay for it, which at least from what he has said, is CSX's fault. Of course we need to wait for the preliminary and final reports from the NTSB, though.
So far as I am aware there is nothing Anderson can do to prevent Amtrak from having to pay for CSX's legal liabilities.

My understanding is that per the original Amtrak/Class II agreement, the private RR company will incur no liability whatsoever, no matter the circumstances, for any damage involving an Amtrak train. As twisted as it may sound I can understand the RR point of view. Simply, if the Amtrak train were not there, there would be no accident/damage for the RR to incur.
These kinds of indemnity agreements are perfectly reasonable between networks of similar size and liability risk. These kinds of agreements make absolutely no moral or ethical sense between freight railroads (who collectively represent roughly 95% of the passenger network miles but less than 1% of passenger liability) and Amtrak (representing roughly 5% of passenger network miles but greater than 99% of passenger liability).

The so-called indemnity agreements are against public poliicy, as the judge ruled in the Chase, Maryland case. Hopefully Anderson will make a very clear case in the media for changing the law which allows CSX to get away scot-free for criminal negligence. It seems like he's ready to take a pretty hard line...
The more Amtrak pushes to change how the indemnity agreements are handled the more of a lobbying target they paint on their back. If a large freight railroad doesn't like how liability disputes will be handled in the future they can simply overcharge Amtrak to prevent them from operating on their network at the completion of the current contract. Amtrak can fight this decision in court but any of the class one railroads can simply slow walk the court case until Amtrak has been bled dry.
 

Karl1459

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Amtrak President Anderson released a statement. I have cut out all the chaff and gone straight to the wheat. "Early media reports indicated that Amtrak was 'on the wrong track' when it hit the CSX freight train, but that statement is inaccurate because we were on the track as designated by CSX, the host railroad".

He goes on: "Our crew on [train] 91 was cleared to proceed by CSX dispatch, but CSX had lined and padlocked the switch off the mainline to the siding, causing the collision."

At the Press Briefing conducted by NTSB, Mr. Sumwalt said the CSX freight crew had picked up empty auto racks from the Hansen & Adkins automobile storage facility on the east side of the mainline. Once they had completed that work, they secured their train of 2 locomotives and 30+ freight cars on the siding on the west side of the mainline. and left their train parked. Mr. Sumwalt did not say where the freight train crew was at the time of the accident, but everything I have heard indicates that they were not on the scene. That crew should have left the switch lined and locked for the mainline. Mr. Sumwalt said the switch was lined and locked for the siding.

Some Unanswered questions:

1. Who lined and locked the switch in the wrong position? The most likely candidate is some member of the freight train crew, although I suppose a signal maintainer or a vandal could have done it.

2. When was the switch lined and locked improperly. In other words, did the Amtrak engineer have any warning time?

3. How long was this situation in place before it was detected the hard way?

4. Since the signals were not functioning normally, what were the exact orders under which the train was being operated?

Tom
The Graniteville SC freight incident is eerily similar, with a switch left misaligned to a siding. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graniteville,_South_Carolina,_train_crash
 
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