Self-Described Amtrak Engineers Discuss Possible Causes of Train 188 Derailment in Philadelphia

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As the investigation into the Amtrak 188 derailments continues, engineers and other industry experts – some of whom claim to be employed by Amtrak – are weighing in on what could have caused Train 188 to derail so horrifically. On the forum discuss.amtraktrains.com, numerous comments have already accumulated in one Amtrak Unlimited forum dedicated to the derailment in Philadelphia, with more posts pouring in as details emerge.

UPDATE 5/19: A poster and self-described Amtrak engineer named “Afigg” has posted a travel log that he says contradicts widespread reports that Train 188 was traveling behind schedule and could have been trying to make up time:

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Shortly after 9:00 P.M. on the night of May 12, 2015, Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 derailed near Frankford Junction in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, killing eight and injuring more than 200 passengers. As the nation mourns this terrible disaster, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators continue to search through the wreckage for clues as to what caused the Philadelphia Amtrak crash.

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Black box data shows that Train 188 was traveling through the sharp curve of Frankford Junction at speeds approaching 106 MPH – more than twice the designated 50 MPH speed limit imposed for this hazardous portion of track. However, NTSB officials have yet to determine the underlying cause behind Train 188’s excessive speeds. Mechanical failure, track defects, computer system errors, and human error are all potential factors.

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Did New Designs Lead to Human Error in Philadelphia Amtrak Crash?

One forum commenter, an engineer who goes by “PRR 60,” first noted the reports of Train 188’s dangerously high speeds at midnight on May 13, writing, “A 100% unconfirmed report with a screenshot from Amtrak’s Track-a-Train shows Train 188 entering the curve from the west at 106mph. That would be grossly overspeed for this curve, and overspeed for the railroad approaching the curve. If that is true,” PRR 60 added, “it is very, very bad.”

Unfortunately, we now know PRR 60’s fears were later confirmed by Train 188’s black box.

The following day, Oklahoma-based engineer “OlympianHiawatha” suggested that a lack of familiarity with Train 188’s control panel could have contributed to the disaster. “We have now heard from the NTSB the train was actually speeding up as it approached the curve; since the ACS-64 is such a new Locomotive,” OlympianHiawatha wrote, “I will be interested to find out if the Engineer was momentarily confused by the controls. This has happened from time to time on newly introduced airliner models, such as the Electra, and resulted in some serious crashes.”

The “ACS” in ACS-64 stands for Amtrak Cities Sprinter: a new design only brought into service in February of 2014. The Sprinter, intended to replace an older fleet featuring HHP-8 and AEM-7 models, is capable of accelerating to speeds as great as 125 MPH in as little as eight minutes. The Sprinter models are designed for use along the Keystone and Northeast Corridors. The Philadelphia train accident occurred along the Northeast Corridor, a popular route stretching from Washington D.C. in the south to Boston in the north. Trains on this route pass through Philadelphia, where the Train 188 disaster occurred.

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NTSB Investigators: Missing Positive Train Control (PTC) System Contributed to Fatal Railroad Accident

Just minutes after OlympianHiawatha posted, another commenter pointed to a new and disturbing detail: the conspicuous absence of a PTC system, or Positive Train Control. “Wonder if PTC wouldn’t reduce the chances of this happening?” asked conductor “gmushial.”

Another engineer, “Paulus,” responded simply, “It would have prevented it.” Delaware-based engineer “AmtrakBlue” agreed, adding, “The NTSB has said that it would have prevented it from happening.”

AmtrakBlue is referring to a statement issued by NTSB Member Robert Sumwalt at a Philadelphia press conference on May 13. As Sumwalt informed members of the press, if the PTC system had been in place at the derailment site, “this accident would not have occurred.”

The PTC system has been praised by Amtrak as “the most important rail safety advancement of our time,” which only adds to the mystery of its absence. In fact, an Amtrak press release issued on March 22, 2012 stated, “By the end of 2012, Amtrak expects to more than triple the number of track-miles on its own railroad where Positive Train Control (PTC) safety technology is installed as part of an aggressive program begun more than two years ago.”

The same press release explains that “PTC technology can control train movements to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed and certain human-caused incidents such as misaligned track switches.

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Frankford Junction: Previously Known as a Dangerous Stretch of Track?

As noted by PRR 60, the recent railroad accident is not the first to occur at Frankford Junction. “What adds to the chill factor,” says PRR 60, “is that the location of this wreck is the exact location of the 1943 PRR Labor Day wreck. That was one of the worst accidents in USA rail history.”

PRR 60 is referring to the 1943 Frankford Junction Train Wreck, in which 79 people lost their lives while another 117 were injured. The 1943 disaster was caused by a mechanical failure after a broken axle snared on the underside of the train, leading to a fatal derailment.

While we cannot confirm the identities of anonymous commenters posting in the Amtrak Unlimited forum, their presumed status as Amtrak engineers lends greater weight to their speculation – significant aspects of which, such as the train’s speed and the PTC factor, have been confirmed by NTSB officials.

The Reiff Law Firm has favorably represented train accident victims in the past.  If you or someone you love was injured in the Train 188 derailment disaster, we may be able to help you recover compensation for your pain and suffering. To arrange for a free and private legal consultation, call our law offices at (215) 246-9000, any time of day or evening.

For more information about the Train 188 derailment accident and getting legal help for the victims and their family members, contact our Philaadelphia train accident attorneys.

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