Another Preventable Train Derailment

by Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley

Need for Better Train Safety

Penny-Pinching on Positive Train Control 

Amtrak trains have been involved in four deaths since December 2017, including the most recent tragedy in South Carolina that killed two crew members and injured more than 100 passengers.

The engineer of the Miami-bound train, 54-year-old Michael Kempf, of Georgia, died after crashing into a CSX train sitting empty on the tracks. The accident occurred in Cayce, a city in Lexington and Richland counties about 10 miles south of Columbia. Michael Cella, the 36-year-old conductor, who lived in Florida, also died.

Kempf said he knew he probably would perish on the job because of concerns not only about the Feb. 5, 2018, accident but also about the one Jan. 31, 2018, when an Amtrak train that was chartering dozens of members of Congress and their families to a Republican retreat in West Virginia hit a garbage truck.

“Me and him always talked about this…something happening,” Rich Kempf told the Daily News in an article titled “Engineer slain in Amtrak crash was ‘voicing concerns about getting killed.’”

Michael Kempf worked in the industry for more than 10 years for both CSX and Amtrak after serving in the Army, Rich Kempf said.

“They paid good money and you got good benefits,” he told the Daily News.

House Speaker Paul Ryan was among those aboard the charter. While no major injuries were reported, the accident killed the occupant of the truck that apparently was stalled on the tracks as the train approached. The occupant has been identified as 28-year-old Christopher Foley, of Virginia. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, as it also investigates a train derailment near Tacoma, Wash., on Dec. 18, 2017. In that accident, the train was hurtling along the tracks at close to 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone on a section of curve. Three lost their lives.

“The circumstances are eerily similar to a 2015 Amtrak crash near Philadelphia in which eight people were killed when a train derailed as it sped through a sharp curve,” reads an editorial in The New York Times titled “The Amtrak Derailment Was Caused by a Collective Failure.” “In both cases, the trains were operating without the benefit of a system known as positive train control, which can automatically slow down or stop a train when human operators fail to do so. This technology is not some hot new thing. The National Transportation Safety Board has been recommending it for nearly half a century. For various reasons – including bureaucratic inertia and penny-pinching – many railroads still don’t have functioning systems in place.”

The editorial continues, “In 2008, after a rail accident in California killed 25 people, Congress required all railroads to install positive train control by the end of 2015. But after many railroads complained that they were not close to completing the task, lawmakers in late 2015 gave them another three years to comply. They also allowed the Department of Transportation to grant extensions of an additional two years on a case-by-case basis if railroads achieved certain milestones.”

All at the expense of passengers. Sadly and senselessly, the South Carolina accident is being blamed on the absence of positive train control, which could have prevented the derailment.

“PTC uses communication-based / processor-based train control technology that provides a system capable of reliably and functionally preventing train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, incursions into established work zone limits, and the movement of a train through a main line switch in the wrong position,” the DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration states on its Web site.

The Washington Post reported in an article titled “NTSB: Amtrak engineer sounded horn, applied emergency brake in S.C. crash” that Association of American Railroads Senior Vice President Michael Rush said the group’s members are “very far along” in installing PTC and the seven major U.S. railroads “are going to make it” by December 2018. However, The Post points out that the definition of “make it” requires that hardware be installed and employees trained but only half of each railroad’s PTC system to be activated by the end of the year, with the rest completed by 2020.

“Installing PTC is an expensive challenge for the railroads, requiring that hardware be added in 25,000 locomotives and sensors be placed along the railway beds,” The Post reported. “The payoff, safety advocates say, is that it will help prevent collisions and derailments.”

Positive train control has been an area of concern at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley since the 2015 accident in Pennsylvania, which also was an Amtrak train and killed eight.

“Chris Searcy and Greg Barnhart have made it a driving force to hold the railway industry’s “feet to the fire” every time they have been given the opportunity to fight for a client against the railroads,” paralegal John Hopkins wrote in a blog titled “Tragic South Carolina Train Wreck – How Preventable Was It?” “Each time it seems as if making decisions that place profits before safety, more often than not, drives the industry in its decisions. We can only speculate how many lives and injured might have been spared had the railroad industry deployed positive train control (PTC) on a schedule that had the soonest safety of passengers in mind.”

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley

Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.