Could Positive Train Control Have Stopped the Washington Train Crash?

Picture of officers investigating a train accident

You’ve probably heard of the massive Amtrak accident that occurred toward the end of last month in DuPont, Washington. The accident occurred when Amtrak Cascades 501 entered a curved overpass at 80mph, nearly triple the curve’s speed limit of 30mph. The train derailed as it went around the curve, sending several passenger vehicles into the air and into the rush hour traffic passing underneath. Over 100 people suffered injuries in the accident and at least three died.

At first glance, the primary cause of the accident was the train’s speed. But could something have been done to slow the train down before the accident? Could positive train control (PTC) have stopped Amtrak Cascades 501?

What is Positive Train Control and How Could It Have Saved Amtrak Cascades 501?

PTC is a system that uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor a train’s movements and speed. If a train shows signs that it is moving too quickly or may cause an accident, PTC can automatically slow down or stop the locomotive. The Federal Railroad Association has said in the past that PTC is the single most important advancement in rail safety in over a century.

Around 40 percent of train crashes are caused by human error. If all rails and trains were to be equipped with PTC, the designers believe that most or all of these accidents could be eliminated. For these reasons, the federal government has mandated that all trains be equipped with PTC by the end of 2018.

Amtrak has since equipped 49 percent of its trains and 67 percent of its rails with PTC. The rail where the derailment occurred was actually equipped with PTC; however, it is not due to become operational until the second quarter of 2018.

If you have been injured in a West Coast train crash, our law firm can help.

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