Thirteen years after a horrifying train wreck, what many consider the worst in S.C. history, just 10 miles inside the Georgia / South Carolina border near Augusta Georgia, this past Sunday morning history inevitably repeated, with mangled rail cars on a South Carolina track. This time, 4 miles south of Columbia. The Amtrak train’s conductor and engineer were killed, and 116 others were hospitalized.
In less than a week a lawsuit has been filed claiming “gross negligence” and “reckless disregard” of safety standards by CSX. The lawsuit also alleges CSX made a “deliberate decision that it will be cheaper to pay compensatory damages for claims resulting from train wrecks and derailments than to install and maintain an appropriate train control system.”
The lawsuit also alleges major railroads, including CSX, have “defied” a 2008 federal law, called the Rail Safety Improvement Act, by stalling action on modern safety technology – called “positive train control.” That technology was to be in place nationwide by Dec. 31, 2015.
That train safety law was passed in response the 2008 collision of a Union Pacific freight train and a Metrolink passenger train that killed 25 and injured 135.
CSX has announced its most recently quarterly profits of $4.14 billion, the lawsuit notes. It is “totally unjustifiable for CSX to take annual profits in the billions of dollars and simultaneously refuse to fund Positive Train Control to protect the lives of people who ride on its tracks,” the suit says.
Amtrak’s Silver Service train from New York to Miami, was operating at 56 mph on railroad tracks “owned, maintained and operated by CSX,” the lawsuit says.
CSX had taken down its signal system along that section of track and “as a result the railroad switches were being manually controlled by CSX. Train operations were being manually directed by CSX through telephone communications,” according to the lawsuit.
Before the Silver Service arrived on the scene, “CSX improperly locked with a padlock the rail switch, which erroneously directed through trains, like the Silver Service train, into the CSX railyard onto the wrong set of tracks, which were already occupied by parked trains and rail cars,” the lawsuit said.
“As a result of the improper locking of the switch by CSX, the Silver Service train was directed onto the wrong set of tracks,” the lawsuit says. The Silver Service’s engineer applied the brakes but it was too late and his train “crashed head-on into the idling train at 50 mph,” the lawsuit said.
One of two Amtrak staffers killed in Sunday’s crash had told his brother he worried about dying in a wreck on the rails.
Michael Kempf, 54, was killed Sunday when an Amtrak train ran off the main track, smashing into a parked train car. Kempf, the train’s engineer, was from Savannah, Ga., and had worked for the company more than a decade, after previously working as a conductor for CSX and serving in the U.S. Army for 20 years as a tank commander, stationed in South Korea and Panama https://www.facebook.com/michael.kempf.370
Positive train control is not known to be in use in South Carolina. However, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, introduced a bill Wednesday to fine railroads that don’t install it.
Deborah Hersman, a former NTSB chairwoman who now is head of the National Safety Council, said installing the positive train control system has been difficult. Railroad companies have been reluctant to install the system because they say it is expensive.
“It’s heartbreaking that so little progress has been made since Graniteville,’’ said Hersman, who assisted with the Graniteville accident investigation. “This was virtually the same accident (in Cayce), and both could have been prevented by positive train control.”
The NTSB said this week that signal lights were not working at the site of the Cayce crash.
CSX issued a statement saying the railroad “is on track” to meet positive train control requirements but declined to say whether any segments of its S.C. operations have the controls.
Sunday’s crash in South Carolina, was the third high-profile incident involving an Amtrak train in less than two months.
The NTSB says it has investigated 146 rail incidents since 1969 that positive train control could have prevented. The toll in those incidents is 291 people killed and 6,574 injured.
2 days later...