Schumer, Gillibrand urge DOT to enforce railroad safety

U.S. Senators are urging DOT to hold railroads accountable for implementing lifesaving technology.
Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP
By Mark Hallum

New York’s U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have called on the federal Dept. of Transportation to crack down on railroads that fail to implement adequate safety measures to prevent accidents such as the deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington state Dec. 18.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced in preliminary findings excessive speed was the cause of the wreck, which killed three and sent more than 100 people to the hospital.

Elected officials are claiming this and other disasters could have been prevented by the implementation of positive train control, which governs the speed trains can travel at through certain zones.

PTC will be required on all trains by the end of 2018 as part of a congressional mandate.

“Since NTSB first recommended PTC, more than 300 people have died, thousands have been injured, and millions of dollars in property damages have been incurred,” the senators said. “The PTC deadline is now almost one year away – Dec. 31, 2018. It is imperative that railroads complete implementation before the deadline. They must clearly understand that the consequences of failure will be stringent and prompt.”

Schumer and Gillibrand were joined by 11 other Democratic senators.

The derailment of the Amtrak train in DuPont, Wash. on the Cascade Line was a keen reminder of the deadly train wreck near Philadelphia in which the conductor, a Forest Hills resident, took a curve at near double the speed limit.

Brandon Bostian, 34, was the engineer of Northeast Regional Train 188 in the May 2015 wreck. Despite a 50-mile-per-hour limit, he was at the controls when the train sped around a curve at 108 mph.

Eight passengers were killed, including two from Queens, and more than 180 others were sent to nearby hospitals, some in critical condition.

In May, the Philadelphia district attorney decided not to press criminal charges against Bostian, claiming that the factors in the incident did not fit the definition of criminal recklessness as described by Pennsylvania state law.

“We cannot conclude that the evidence rises to the high level necessary to charge the engineer, or anyone else, with a criminal offense,” the Philadelphia DA’s office said in a statement. “We have no evidence that the engineer acted with criminal ‘intent’ or criminal ‘knowledge’ within the special meaning of those terms under Pennsylvania law for purposes of criminal charges. Nor do we believe there is sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, criminal recklessness, which would be the only other basis for criminal liability.”

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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