investigation into the cause(s) of the Amtrak derailment on Monday, December 18 near
Tacoma, Washington remains ongoing,
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) official Bella Dinh-Zarr provided updates regarding potential sources
of the crash in a recent
news conference. The derailment killed three passengers and injured many others, including
crew members working on the train at the time.
While it was previously determined that the train was traveling at least
50mph over the speed limit at the time of derailment, investigators have
also recently discovered that the train’s emergency brake was activated
automatically (rather than manually), likely indicating the collective
hazard of the impending curve and the excessive speed was not anticipated
by the train’s engineer. Further, there is reason to believe that
more than one person was in the front cab of the locomotive at the time
of the crash; along with the train’s engineer, a conductor-in-training
was said to be present, likely attempting to familiarize himself with
the region. Though
Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson indicated it is not uncommon for multiple persons to be in the front cab,
there is concern that such circumstances potentially led to distraction
on the part of the engineer. Ms. Dinh-Zarr stated that cellphone records
of all crew members will be reviewed to further investigate this growing
The NTSB also plans to conduct interviews with the seven crew members who
had been working on the train at the time of the derailment. However,
it is presently unclear exactly when such interviews will take place,
as all of the crew is currently being treated for injuries at a local hospital.
Investigators additionally plan to inspect data recorders retrieved from
the crash that had been located within the front and back locomotives.
Cameras had also been located on the train within the engineer’s
cab, but were severely damaged, and have since been sent to Washington
D.C. for attempted restoration. Ms. Dinh-Zarr explained that she hopes
it will be possible to extract images from the cameras to assist in determining
the engineer’s state of mind during the moments before the crash.
Though the exact cause of the crash has yet to be determined, there is
little uncertainty regarding the high likelihood of a plethora of future
lawsuits against Amtrak as a result of the deaths and injuries sustained.
However, due to the
Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, a federal law enacted in 1997, the collective allowable amount of damages
to all victims and/or victim family members may be capped at $295 million
(raised from $200 million with 2015’s
Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act
(FAST Act)), which many believe is insufficient to provide adequate compensation
to all affected persons. While the Act’s original intent was to
protect the railroad industry, critics claim that it simply guards the
industry against sufficient accountability, thereby further victimizing
the persons involved.