Amtrak Ordered to Improve Safety on Northeast Corridor

Following Tuesday's deadly derailment in Philadelphia, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has instructed Amtrak to immediately take several actions to improve safety along its Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak has been ordered to expand the use of a speed restriction system in the area of the crash to northbound trains, assess the curve speeds along the Northeast Corridor and increase the amount and frequency of signage about authorized speeds on different areas of the tracks.

Amtrak Train 188 derailed Tuesday as it entered a curve at 106 mph in Philadelphia, killing eight passengers and injuring more than 200. Federal investigators will take months to determine the cause of the crash. Speed, not equipment failure, has emerged as a key factor, although the FBI is also looking into the train possibly being struck by a projectile.

"We are continuing to work with the NTSB to understand exactly what happened on Tuesday so we can prevent this type of devastating accident from ever happening again," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Saturday in a press release. "While we do not yet know everything that happened, we do know - without question - that protecting rail passengers is our top priority.”

The actions ordered by the FRA are expected to be formalized in the coming days via an emergency order, the release said.

"These are just initial steps, but we believe they will immediately improve safety for passengers on the Northeast Corridor," said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg. 

Amtrak has said it hopes to restart limited service Monday.

Specific details about the order:

Technology to control train speeds: Automatic Train Control - ATC - is currently in use for southbound trains at and near the derailment site to enforce speed restrictions. Amtrak has been ordered to immediately ensure that same technology is in use to enforce speed restrictions for northbound trains. ATC detects when a train is traveling above the speed limit, sending a signal to the engineer. If the engineer fails to act to slow the train down, ATC will automatically apply the train's brakes.

Assess risk at all curves on NEC: Amtrak has been ordered to analyze all curves on the NEC to assess risk. In areas where approach speed is significantly higher than curve speed, the appropriate technology intended to prevent over-speed derailments must be implemented immediately. Amtrak must also take a new look at all curves along the corridor and determine if more can be done to improve safety in any of these areas. Amtrak will report back to the Federal Railroad Administration with its findings.

Speed limit signage: Amtrak must increase its wayside signage alerting engineers and conductors of the maximum authorized speed throughout the NEC. Increasing the amount and frequency of signage provides a redundant means to remind engineers and conductors of the authorized speed, in addition to information they receive from the ATC system and other operations documents.

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