Amtrak Train Vermonter Derails after Striking Debris Left by Rock Slide

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Rail travel is perceived by the public as being a safe and efficient way to travel. Faced with the high-prices, baggage check fees, and security ordeals associated with flying many people may decide to take a regional train to their destination. Furthermore, there are many other reasons why people decide to travel by rail including the fact that such a mode of travel allows people to enjoy the surrounding sight, sounds, and smells. In fact, many train lines in New England and other more rural areas are especially popular for tourists seeking picturesque views of the changing leaves in the autumn. The Vermonter, a rail line running from northern Vermont through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware, and Maryland on its way to Washington D.C. is popular with both commuter and tourist passengers.

Unfortunately, a trip on the Vermonter line did not go as planned. Due to environmental hazards, a train that set out from Vermont on its way to its scheduled destination in Washington D.C. derailed outside of Northfield, Vermont. While details are still being uncovered by first responders, some facts regarding the accident have already become clear.

The Accident Occurred Due to a “Freak of Nature”

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin has characterized the crash and derailment as a “freak of nature.” According to initial reports from the site of the accident, it appears that a rock ledge located nearly directly above the tracks broke off. The debris from the broken rock ledge then landed on or tumbled onto the tracks. The engineer saw the debris on the tracks and tried to stop the train, but he was apparently unable to do so. The train hit the rocks and jumped the tracks.

A train had apparently passed along this same route Sunday night and experienced no problems. Officials believe that the rock slide occurred in the late-evening or early-morning hours prior to the 10:30 a.m. derailment.

In all, five train cars left the tracks due to the debris. Because the location of the accident was located near an embankment, two of the five derailed cars plummeted down an embankment. Thankfully, the cars that plummeted down the embankment appear to have been unoccupied or a difficult situation may have been tragic.

Injuries Caused by the Amtrak Derailment

Fortunately, it appears that the injuries caused by this accident are relatively mild in comparison to the appearance of the train cars. While some of the train cars appear bruised, beaten, and battered only 7 of the 98 passengers had injuries that required transport to a local hospital. Of those seven passengers transported to the hospital, all injuries appear to be minor or, at least, not life-threatening. Injuries include aches and pains in the neck, back, and shoulders. One person reported a wrist injury and another individual reported light-headedness.

New Derailment Marks the Latest Incident in a Tough 2015 for Amtrak

This latest derailment is the latest black-eye for Amtrak in 2015. Earlier in the year, the tragic and much-publicized Amtrak Train 188 derailment occurred due to a train traveling at the excessive speed of 102 mph in a 50 mph zone. While this earlier derailment is believed to be accidental, clear answers to its cause are still lacking. Unanswered questions include:

  • Why did the train enter the curve at such high speeds?
  • Why didn’t the engineer pull the emergency brake until seconds prior to the crash?
  • Was the train struck by a projectile?
  • Was the engineer knocked unconscious due to a possible projectile or due to the force of the crash?
  • Did the newer-model train have any unintended acceleration glitches or other problems?
  • Could positive track control (PTC) have prevented this accident?

This incident does not appear to raise any of these questions. It does not appear that the Vermonter train was traveling at an excessive speed that would have reduced the amount of time the engineer had to stop. It also appears that the engineer braked appropriately, but simply did not and could not perceive the threat early enough. Finally, it does not appear that PTC would have or could have prevented this accident.

However, the accident does further call certain aspects of Amtrak’s safety operations into question. Chiefly, one must be concerned about Amtrak’s ability to monitor its track network, to perceive threats on the tracks, and to take corrective action in a timely manner. While it may be true that this was a “freak accident” Amtrak and other train operators travel on hundreds of thousands of miles of tracks throughout the United States. Some of these tracks are in rural and difficult to access areas where debris can easily land on the tracks without a human being present to notice. The fact that events of this type can and actually have occurred may cause people to reconsider the apparent safety of rail travel.

Hurt in a Train Derailment? Our Lawyers Can Help

If you or a loved one have suffered serious, catastrophic injuries due to an Amtrak or other train accident or derailment, the experienced personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm can fight for compensation for you. To schedule a free, private initial consultation call us at (215) 246-9000 today.

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