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Fatal crash follows best month in Amtrak’s history

December 20, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Investigators are examining the rail tracks to find what derailed Amtrak train 501 south of Seattle, causing a spectacular and dreadful crash that killed several people and left a carriage dangling over a highway overpass.

The Amtrak train was making its first-ever run along a new, faster route to Portland, Oregon. Some reports said it appeared to have hit something. Other reports said the train was speeding and last night federal investigators confirmed the train was travelling at close to 130km/h mph on a curved stretch of track where the speed limit was 48km/h.

The Amtrak train shook violently and derailed while carrying 78 passengers and five crew. At least three people were killed and just about everyone aboard was injured to some degree, some very seriously.

Amtrak has a great product – passengers get to see America rather than flying over it, the carriages are roomy and there’s no middle seat. It’s usually safe. Between 2000 and 2014, Amtrak’s total accident rate per million passenger kilometres dropped by more than half and so did derailments. The trend has continued.

While rail travel in the US is much safer per kilometre than road travel, it’s not as safe statistically as air travel. This is the third fatal accident for Amtrak in three years, whereas the skies are incredibly safe. Last year was the seventh straight year in which nobody died in a crash on a US airline flying a scheduled service anywhere in the world.

Amtrak derailment. Pierce County Sheriff. Twitter


In a bitter irony, so-called Positive Train Control, a system which limits train speed, was installed on the section of track where the crash happened – but it’s still being tested and is due to be switched on next year.

Just as ironically, last week Amtrak declared its best month ever. It achieved record revenue in November, reaching USD 204.7 million in system-wide adjusted ticket revenue, the best month in the company’s history.

“More customers are choosing Amtrak as it is simply the smarter way to travel,” Amtrak chief executive Wick Moorman said at the time.

“We look forward to providing the Amtrak experience to more customers over the December holidays.”

Written by Peter Needham

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