On Monday afternoon, June 27, several carriages of an Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed. The railway collided with a dump truck at a crossing in northern Missouri, causing the deadly disaster.
More than 200 people were on the train at the time of the accident, which occurred around 12:45 p.m., according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Initially, two people on the train and one person in the dump truck were killed in the crash, per early police reports.
Now, police say four people have died, including the driver of the truck and three passengers on board the train. One of the passengers was pronounced dead on Tuesday at a hospital in Columbia. The Amtrak disaster in Mendon, located roughly 115 miles northeast of Kansas City, wounded 150 other people. At least 13 people were still hospitalized as of Wednesday.
The Search for Evidence
The National Transportation Safety Board’s 14-member team arrived at the disaster site Tuesday morning to begin an investigation. Former U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo said that the steep hill and condition of the train crossing would be the focus of the inquiry.
On Tuesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said the agency will examine the circumstances immediately preceding the incident. According to Homendy, authorities will collect evidence via a number of pathways. For example, officials will first make a digital download of information from the onboard recording system. This would indicate elements such as train horn usage, the train’s speed before the collision, and how brakes were deployed.
Statistics on Passenger Railway Accidents
Furthermore, the incident has thrown additional emphasis on the ongoing debate in the United States about railway financing and safety issues.
A passenger train catastrophe is similar to an aircraft crash in certain ways, as they are both deadly and terrifying but ultimately uncommon. According to Federal Railroad Administration safety records, Amtrak had just five fatal train incidents from 2006 to 2014. The Federal Railroad Administration defines train accidents as collisions, derailments, explosions, or acts of God. During the same time period, there were 32 accidents involving commuter trains around the country.
Trespassers on tracks and auto accidents at rail crossings are the most common causes of railway-related deaths. These events accounted for 96% of rail deaths in 2013, according to the FRA. Meanwhile, there were 105 trespasser fatalities involving Amtrak or commuter trains that year.
Safety Concerns After the MO Train Accident
Despite an old train fleet, Amtrak has transported more than 30 million passengers over the last five years. In fact, the Northeast Regional, Southwest Chief, and Empire Service all achieved new ridership records in 2015.
Still, passengers may wonder if they are truly safe aboard passenger trains throughout the United States. Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy research at the American Enterprise Institute, analyzed the figures. Hassett discovered that, although American rail travel is statistically safe, it still lags when compared to European counterparts.
Comparing U.S. Transit-Related Injuries to Europe
Per data from 2004 to 2012, a passenger would need to travel 4.9 million miles on a French train or 4.1 million miles on a German train to suffer one transit-related injury. This figure is much lower in the United States. For instance, Hassett discovered that a passenger on an American railway would only need to go 84,300 miles before sustaining an injury. After correcting the ratio between kilometers and miles traveled, Hassett’s studies demonstrate a concerning fact: Amtrak passengers in the United States suffer injuries nearly 60 times more often than those traveling on French railways.
As these numbers and Monday’s accident in Missouri show, officials may be able to do more to improve passenger safety.