A massive Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia has left 7 dead and injured more than 200 people. According to CBS News, the train was headed for Washington D.C., and was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members when it derailed about 9:30 pm. The impact tore the cars apart, with seven sent flying from the tracks. The engine was also destroyed.
Dangers associated with our nation’s rail system have happened before. Amtrak saw one of its deadliest accidents in 1999 on route from New Orleans to Chicago. According to the New York Times, a train crashed into a truck at a railroad crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois, just 55 miles south of Chicago. Thirteen people were killed and 116 people were injured. The NTSB found the train was traveling at 79 miles an hour, the maximum speed allowed on the stretch of track at the time.
Traveling at a high rate of speed may be one of the factors contributing to train crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has confirmed that the train involved in Tuesday’s crash was travelling in excess of 100 mph prior to the derailment. While the cause of Tuesday’s crash remains unknown, excessive speed is one possibility. NBC News reports the scene of Tuesday’s crash was near a section of track where a 70 mph straight section went into a 50 mph curve. This is the same curve where a one of America’s worst train disasters occurred 71 years ago.
Many of these accidents are also linked to the failing railway infrastructure, including deteriorating electrical systems and aging physical structures such as rail bridges and tracks. A recent train accident involving a tank car outside of Barrington, Illinois brought attention to the dangers of derailments when trains carry hazardous materials. The accident created a fireball, putting residents and their property in danger. The Daily Herald, reports Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is calling for legislation to be enacted to address several of these concerns, explaining, “We’re finding more and more derailments, and that’s scary, particularly when you get near urban communities.”
In the Philadelphia train crash, initial reports indicate that the rail line where the accident occurred “suffers from aging electrical infrastructure that is highly susceptible to failure.” Further, CBS news reports that Amtrak had not installed technology on that part of the track that prevents trains from going faster than the speed limit.