After Fatal Metro-North Derailment, Safety Concerns Remain

The Metro-North derailment in the Bronx on December 1, 2013, claimed the lives of four people and left more than 60 people injured is still under investigation. Sources have indicated, however, that driver inattention may have been to blame for the accident. William Rockefeller, the driver of the train, at first claimed that the brakes failed to engage as he entered the sharp turn at the junction of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers. According to officials at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), testing revealed no drugs or alcohol in the driver’s system. Rockefeller’s attorney, Jeffrey Chartier, stated that an episode similar to driver fatigue caused temporary inattention and was responsible for the accident. Rockefeller has been suspended without pay pending the final results of the NTSB investigation. The Cost of Failure Under the provisions of the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), railroad workers can seek damages for accidents incurred during the course of their duties. A qualified FELA claim lawyer can obtain sizable financial settlements for clients who have experienced pain and suffering due to injuries caused by unsafe practices or negligence on the part of the railroad companies. Passengers can also file suit for damages by engaging the services of a train accident attorney. Depending on the extent of their injuries and the culpability of the railroad in the accident, the damages awarded to victims of these incidents can be exceptionally high. These financial costs may represent the most effective pressure possible to spur the implementation of advanced safety systems for railway travel. Safety Measures Could Have Saved Lives The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) serves New York City and the surrounding areas. After the deadly Metro-North derailment, the MTA announced that it will implement new safety systems to warn engineers of upcoming curves and required slowdowns while in transit. Automatic enforcement of speed restrictions will also be put into place to prevent accidents on particularly dangerous curves. The NTSB is recommending the placement of cameras in train cabs to monitor driver attention levels and to allow intervention before accidents occur. For the victims of the Metro-North train wreck, however, these new safety features are a case of too little, too late. Advanced Systems Offer Hope Safety experts within the railroad industry have lobbied for the implementation of a new technology that could reduce the risk of accidents and save lives. Positive train control (PTC) systems use a combination of computer controls, wireless radio signals and GPS positioning to provide exact location and speed information for every train on the tracks. Similar systems are currently used to manage and monitor the safety and efficiency of large-scale vehicle fleets on the roadways. PTC goes one step further in allowing computer control of certain elements of train operation to prevent collisions and derailments before they occur. The railroads themselves, however, have been resistant to these systems, citing the high costs of implementation and the potential for computer error as obstacles to the installation of PTC systems on a comprehensive basis. An Ounce of Prevention While the expenses involved in implementing PTC systems are likely to be significant, the costs of doing nothing are far greater. Federal legislation requires the full implementation of PTC systems throughout the nation’s railroads by December 2015. Ironically, the MTA had already begun work on implementing PTC for the Metro-North railroad system. The implementation is still unfinished, however, and is unlikely to be completed prior to the December 2015 deadline. For now, the legal system represents the only practical way to hold the rail industry responsible for failing to protect the safety of passengers and railroad employees. By obtaining qualified legal counsel and seeking damages for accidents caused by human error or negligence on the part of the railroads, accident victims can make a positive difference in encouraging improved safety systems and reducing the risks involved in modern railway travel.