Working for a railroad is an inherently dangerous job, but transportation safety officials, national lawmakers, and railroad experts all agree that following safety procedures could have prevented the deaths of two rail workers and the injuries of 39 passengers resulting from a 2016 Amtrak train crash.
According to the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Robert Sumwalt, who testified at a November 14 hearing in Washington, D.C., “Amtrak’s safety culture is failing – and is primed to fail again – until and unless Amtrak changes the way it practices safety management.” In November, the NTSB issued fifteen safety recommendations related to the accident, calling for Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration to improve technology and communications and renew their focus on safety.
Numerous Safety Violations Identified
While conducting an investigation of the accident, the NTSB found 24 separate safety failures, including a dispatcher making personal phone calls while at work, a lack of backup safety tools that alert dispatchers to the presence of people on the tracks, and a supervisor who was lenient on requiring workers to follow Amtrak’s safety procedures. Because of communication failures on the part of the night and the day foreman, 1.) safeguards that would have prevented the train from being routed onto a track that was undergoing maintenance were not in effect; 2.) the train’s engineer did not know that workers were in the area; and, 3.) the workers had no idea that a train was approaching.
The reviewers also found that Amtrak workers were afraid to report issues for fear of being disciplined or punished. Although the company had a “close-call” reporting system in place, the NTSB found that workers were too afraid of retaliation to use it properly. More than a year after the crash, Amtrak told the NTSB that the company was still in the process of revising its reporting program.
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