Amtrak's CEO said Thursday that the railroad is safe, and getting safer, in an effort to reassure the public after one of the railroad service's trains derailed in north Philadelphia, leaving eight people dead and dozens injured.
"This is a damn safe railroad," Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman said "This is the first time in 28 years that we’ve had this kind of derailment with the loss that we’ve had" in the Northeast Corridor, he said. The Jan. 4, 1987 crash in Maryland killed 16 people.
"We’ve carried 300 million people on this railroad since that Chase (Maryland) incident," Boardman said, speaking of the Northeast Corridor, which is where Tuesday's train derailment occurred.
An Amtrak accident with a higher death toll than the Maryland crash occurred in 1993, when an Amtrak train plunged into an Alabama river after a towboat pushing barges struck a railroad bridge in heavy fog minutes earlier, displacing the bridge, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Forty-two passengers and five crew members were killed.
Boardman said Amtrak train operators are monitored "on a regular basis" to see if they're adhering to speed limits and other safety measures. Robert Sumwalt, a member of the NTSB, said Wednesday that the train that derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday was traveling at 106 mph as it entered a curve where the speed limit is just 50 mph.
A new system, called positive train control (PTC), would "automatically stop or slow a train before certain types of accidents occur," according to the Association of American Railroads. But the system hadn't been implemented on the part of the track where Tuesday's derailment occurred.
Getting the system in place is expensive.
"We need to make equity investments not only on the railroads but on the highways and aviation, and I think Congress knows that — they can’t figure out how to fund it," Boardman said. The day following Tuesday's crash, the House Appropriations Committee defeated a measure that would have provided more than $800 million to speed completion of PTC.
Boardman said a lack of money won't deter Amtrak from making safety a top priority.
"We're committed to safety. We’re going to have positive train control by the end of this year. We’re the leader in that in the United States, and we’re going to make it happen," he said.
"We have been able to, and have always, pulled the money out necessary to make the safety improvements," Boardman said.
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— Elisha Fieldstadt