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May 26th, 2015

Philadelphia Amtrak Train Accident – Was it a Mechanical Malfunction?

Philadelphia Amtrak Train Accident – What Really Happened?

It’s a question that almost every major news outlet has tried to answer, or at least, shed light on. But there are no clear answers, not yet. The train operator has indicated he remembers nothing about the accident except that it accelerated in the moments before the train hit the curve, going double the speed it should have. It’s unclear if the train operator manually accelerated the train and if so, why.

What is clear is that the acceleration and subsequent speed are what caused the train to derail. Local and federal investigations are centered on the train operator’s state of mind and his actions just prior to the accident. Was he using his cell phone or texting? A few years ago, a major train crash in California occurred due to the train operator’s use of a cell phone to text. That crash resulted in the deaths of 25 people.

In the most recent train accident, the train operator’s lawyer has gone on record stating that the operator’s cell phone was not a factor and was safely in the operator’s bag. In addition, drugs and alcohol are unlikely factors. Multiple news agencies have indicated that the operator voluntarily gave a blood sample to rule out drugs/alcohol. In addition, the mysterious hit-by-an-object theory has been debunked. So what really happened?

A Few Facts about Amtrak

Before we discuss what may have happened, here are a few relevant facts about Amtrak.

Amtrak owns the Northeast Corridor, 363 miles of a corridor, which stretches from Washington DC to Boston. It is the busiest passenger line in the country, and trains often reach speeds of 125 – 150 mph.

In 2014, ridership on Amtrak trains peaked at over 30,000,000, the highest number of passengers in its entire history. The Northeast Corridor accounts for a large percentage of annual traffic.

In 2013, Amtrak began implementing a new plan to replace some of the older trains, especially on the Northeast Corridor. The replacement process is set to continue through 2016.

Engine Malfunction/Defect Theory

Like with most things in life, when it comes to an accident or injury, the easiest explanation is usually the correct one. One thing that makes sense in this tragic situation is a malfunction with the train’s acceleration system. According to multiple news reports, the locomotive was practically new. It’s likely the train’s engine was about a year old. When it comes to new pieces of major equipment and machines, like a train, product defects can and do occur.

The global economy results in an increase in defective products. In our global economy, equipment and parts are usually manufactured overseas, where the lowest bidder creates, manufactures and/or assembles a product. This trend often results in unsafe products. Even if a product is “Made in the U.S.,” you can certainly expect that a component part came from overseas.

Each year, more and more people are injured due to defective products. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, emergency room treatment for children under the age of 15 are increasing. In 2009, there were roughly 185,000 ER visits for toy related injuries in children younger than 15, compared to a little over 150,000 injuries in 2005.

When new products are implemented in large companies, there are corresponding changes in operations and procedures, including maintenance operations and maintenance procedures. Employees must be trained on those new procedures. Errors are bound to occur.

Was the Train Accident Caused by a Malfunction?

Let’s discuss these principles in the context of the recent train accident in Philadelphia. It certainly doesn’t make sense that a bullet or getting struck by a small mystery object caused this accident. Also, assuming the train operator wasn’t drunk, high or texting on his cell phone just before the accident, it doesn’t make sense he maliciously or negligently accelerated to DOUBLE the speed limit allowed for the curve.

Rather, what makes sense is that something went wrong with the mechanical parts of that train. New commuter trains traveling at speeds of up to 150 mph are certainly subject to defects, and it’s quite possible that a defect or mechanical error contributed to the accident. Then, factor in the possibility that someone wasn’t trained properly about a new procedure, and it begins to make more sense.

There will likely be more theories as to what caused the accident as the investigation continues. We can only wait to see whether investigators find the cause of this tragic train accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the accident.