The Amtrak collision on Sunday morning, April 3, 2016 was the fifth serious incident for the railroad over the past 12 months.
In this incident, Amtrak Train 89 bound for Savannah, GA from New York with about 330 passengers struck a backhoe which was on the active track, killing the backhoe operator and another Amtrak worker. The backhoe along with the Amtrak crew were working on the track as part of an operation to replenish ballast, or stone, that stabilizes the ties and track on this stretch of track.
Why did this collision occur? Why was the backhoe on the track? Why wasn’t it removed before the collision? Amtrak has a 20-step procedure for obtaining clearance to place equipment on the track and remove it when a train is approaching. Was the procedure followed? Was there a communication breakdown? Was it a human or mechanical error?
These are all questions that the NTSB will investigate and undoubtedly answer in due time.
In the meantime, what is the riding public supposed to think? Fundamentally, what has to go through your mind when getting on board an Amtrak train? Am I safe?
Well the first line of safety are the employees of Amtrak who work on the trains and tracks. Are they qualified, attentive, and healthy?
There were 1,301 Amtrak employees injured in 2013, up from 695 in 2009. Amtrak’s chief of operation suggested that the injury increase might be partly because the workforce is aging.
An aging workforce is not the soundest formula for maintaining a railroads safe operation. When you board a train you want the engineer, conductor, and track personnel to be of the highest caliber.
When you ask the question, whether it is safe to ride Amtrak, in order to conclude that the answer is a resounding yes the quality of its employees must be taken into account. If the quality of the employees is questionable then so must be the response to whether it is safe to ride Amtrak.
by Sam Abloeser