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Terror In The Northeast Corridor

At approximately 9:30pm on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, the Amtrak train traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York City with 238 passengers and 5 crew members on board derailed in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By midday May 13, 7 people were confirmed dead, 8 people were in critical condition, and over 200 people had been treated in area hospitals. Some passengers were still unaccounted for at the time of this writing.

Hundreds of police and firefighters responded, as well as NTSB and FBI investigators. The black box of the train has been recovered, and investigators will focus on that as well as the footage from a video recording of train tack. Among the possible causes of the accident are the condition of the tracks and trains, how the signals operated, human performance, and speed. In particular, some reports have surfaced that the trains may have been traveling in excess of 100 mph as they approached the area of the derailment. The area of the crash is a well-known curve in the track, and is the site of the nation's worst train disaster, the Congressional Limited crash of 1943, which resulted in 79 fatalities.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said he was "heartbroken" and described the scene of the crash as an "absolute disastrous mess." It is the ninth derailment for Amtrak this year alone.


In a strange twist of fate, a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss continued funding of Amtrak was taking place simultaneously with the rescue and recovery efforts at the Amtrak crash site. The hearing, which was previously scheduled, is part of an ongoing political battle between conservatives and liberals about government spending. Amtrak is publicly funded but run as a private corporation; however, it has been historically unprofitable, running annual deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Conservatives want to break up Amtrak and privatize it, while liberals favor increasing Amtrak's budget to allow it to upgrade its rails and cars. The issue often pits party members from more populous states in need of rail transit against those from more rural or mid-western states against each other. Senator Cory Booker, (D-NJ), who represents a constituency on the Northeast Corridor, recently noted that the nation's infrastructure is in poor shape and is "approaching a crisis as passenger rail investment languishes."


Comparisons of the American rail transit system with that of Europe invariably lead to questions about this country's lack of a high-speed rail system. There are some reasons for demand being lower in this country for that service; air travel here is relatively affordable, gasoline is cheaper (lower taxes on it), and most highways are free of tolls. However, California is planning a high-speed rail system, and in the Northeast Corridor between D.C. and Boston, thousands of people depend on rail transit daily. When tragic accidents like the Amtrak derailment happen, the question becomes whether technology and infrastructure are keeping up with need and demand.


If you have been involved in a rail transit accident, or injured in any way while riding on the railway, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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Thomas Law Firm
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