So far, the answer is that authorities do not yet know. Here’s what we do know. This Amtrak train crash happened on a stretch of northbound track in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia near a bend in the track close to Frankford Avenue and Wheatsheaf Lane. The train, identified as Northeast Regional Train 188, from Washington to New York, had at least seven cars. The engine separated from the train cars, traveled through a dirt area, and came to rest diagonally across another set of railroad tracks. Six passenger cars overturned.
We also know that this Amtrak derailment took place near the same curve in the track where the nation’s deadliest train crashes occurred. On Labor Day in 1943, a train carrying military members on leave derailed and killed 79 people. As a result of the crash this Tuesday, Temple Hospital treated 54 people and Aria Health treated 59 people. As a result of Tuesday’s train wreck, six people have died and more remain in critical condition.
What else do we know about this section of track? The Northeast Corridor, which includes this section of track, is one of the busiest and oldest rail routes in the country. Amtrak trains are allowed to travel at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour on the Northeast Corridor, but conductors are required to reduce speeds in urban and residential areas. Anyone who has ever traveled by train on the Northeast Corridor, which runs from Boston to D.C., knows that it is one of the country’s busiest rail lines. It also has aging track and equipment. Mayors up and down the Corridor and many other officials have long complained that Congress needs to approve more subsidies to improve the railroad’s deteriorating infrastructure and replace aging equipment.
This problem is not confined to the Northeast corridor. Let’s not forget that just this past March 62 people were injured after an Amtrak train crashed into a tractor-trailer truck at a busy highway train crossing site. The train was traveling on a 70 miles per hour stretch of track, and there was no system to warn the conductor of traffic on the track. Two weeks before the NC crash, a similar crash happened in California. As the volume of our nation’s highway and railway traffic continues to explode, we cannot continue to rely on old, deteriorating infrastructure. There’s something very unsettling about the notion of an Amtrak passenger train going over 100 miles an hour on the track on the Northeast Corridor.
In the first sentence of his 2012 Update Report, Amtrak President and CEO, Joe Boardman, said that “[t]he aging and congested multimodal transportation network of the Northeast region is facing a crisis.” He acknowledged that the Northeast Corridor’s “rail infrastructure was built over a century ago.” Three years later, it’s time we do something about this in the Northeast and throughout the country.