Blood on the tracks: Amtrak’s 5 most recent accidents

Emergency personnel examine the scene after an Amtrak passenger train struck a backhoe, killing two people, in Chester, Pennsylvania, April 3, 2016. © Dominick Reuter
Amtrak is back in service after Sunday’s fatal crash near Philadelphia, when two people died. Two more were killed in accidents in Pennsylvania and Illinois. Federal statistics show over 2,000 accidents and more than 200 deaths since 2000.

According to statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration cited by the Washington Post in May 2015 – following the fatal crash in Philadelphia – between 2000 and 2014, Amtrak accidents have resulted in at least 224 deaths and 2,228 injuries.

Derailments, which most frequently happen in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, accounted for most of the passenger injuries, while the bulk of the fatalities resulted from collisions between trains and other vehicles.

April 2016: Chester, Pennsylvania

Investigators are still trying to figure out why an Amtrak construction crew was on the tracks near Chester on Sunday morning, when the Palmetto train number 89 struck a backhoe and killed its operator and his supervisor. Thirty passengers were injured when the engine and one of the cars derailed, and service was temporarily suspended along the busy Northeast Corridor. There were 341 passengers and seven crew members on board.

There were two more Amtrak accidents on Sunday. In Somonauk, Illinois, a passenger train struck a car at a roadway crossing, killing a 28-year-old man. Later that day, a man lost a leg in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, as he was reportedly trespassing on the tracks and got hit by Amtrak 672 bound for New York City.

March 2016: Cimarron, Kansas

The Southwest Chief, bound for Chicago from Los Angeles with 142 passengers and crew on board, derailed near Cimarron, some 20 miles outside Dodge City, when the engineer hit emergency brakes over a “significant bend in a rail."  None of the victims sustained life-threatening injuries.

January 2016:  Jacksonville, Florida

An Amtrak train struck a Chevy Tahoe SUV standing at a railroad crossing, killing the driver. Local residents have complained that the ramps and signals did not give enough time for cars to clear the intersection before the trains come through.

October 2015: Northfield, Vermont

Five cars and the locomotive jumped the tracks after encountering a rockslide, about 10 miles south of Montpelier, the state capital. The train was carrying 98 passengers and four crew members. Five passengers and two crew members were injured, one seriously – though authorities later said none of the injuries appeared life-threatening. 

May, 2015: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Amtrak’s Northeast Regional 188, bound for New York City from Washington, DC, derailed on a curved section of the track north of Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring over 200. The train was moving at 102 mph (164 km/h) in a 50-mph (80 km/h) zone when it derailed.

After looking into the possibility of operator error and even an attack on the train, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board ruled the derailment was most likely an accident. In 1943, the Congressional Limited train belonging to the Pennsylvania Railroad crashed on the same section of the tracks, killing 79 and injuring 117.

Dangerous tracks

The deadliest accident in Amtrak’s history took place in September 1993, at the Big Bayou Canot Bridge near Mobile, Alabama. A swing bridge was knocked out of alignment by a passing barge in heavy fog. This derailed the Miami-bound Sunset Limited, with 220 passengers and crew on board, killing 47 and injuring 103.

Amtrak is the sole passenger railroad service in the US, operating over 300 trains on a daily basis on 21,300 miles (34,000 kilometers) of track. The government-subsidized service connects more than 500 destinations in 46 American states and three Canadian provinces.