U.S., Amtrak: A word about the Southwest Chief’s passengers and crew members

The Southwest Chief in New Mexico. Amtrak publicity photo.

Message from James E. Coston, Executive Chairman, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; June 27, 2002

CHICAGO ‒ Everyone in the passenger rail industry today mourns the tragic, most likely avoidable accident in Missouri which claimed three lives and multiple injuries on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, train number 4, which originated in Los Angeles Saturday, June 25th and was due to arrive in Chicago today.

We are thankful with a sold-out train there were not more fatalities and we are hopeful when all information is available, the injures of passengers and crew members are those which they will fully recover from easily and quickly.

This derailment with two locomotives and then eight passenger cars on their side in the middle of a corn field again reminds us how Amtrak’s onboard services and train and engine employees are, in fact, safety employees who have been repeatedly trained for just such tragic events. Many will owe thanks to those employees who offered help and comfort.

We also reminded of the safety features of passenger train equipment which immediately went into play and minimized the impact of the derailment. Tightlock couplers did their job and prevented cars from telescoping into one another. Safety windows allowed access to the over-turned cars and allowed rescuers access to passengers inside the cars. Seats bolted in place provided for fewer flying objects.

The too-often issue of large trucks, such as dump trucks intruding on train tracks and causing death and destruction, makes everyone riding a passenger train a potential victim as demonstrated today. No matter how well-rehearsed and enforced railroad safety protocols are, as long as what could be an errant driver believing they can “beat a train” over a crossing there will continue to be derailments similar to today.

Amtrak and its passengers and employees were victimized because they simply were traveling over a mainline track at speed. Track owner and dispatcher BNSF Railway was victimized by having their infrastructure fouled and service interrupted. What possibly could be negligent action by a single truck driver has caused millions of dollars of destruction in addition to death and injury.

We hope for a speedy recovery for the injured, peace for the families of the deceased, and a future which does not include a fatal derailment on a clear and sunny day in rural America.

Please share with others