In this aerial photo, emergency personnel work at the scene of a deadly train wreck, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. Federal investigators arrived Wednesday to determine why an Amtrak train jumped the tracks in a wreck that killed at least six people, and injured dozens. (Photo: AP)
Eight people were killed late on Tuesday night, and over 200 others were injured, when an Amtrak train derailed just outside of Philadelphia.
The commuter train, traveling from Washington DC to New York, left the tracks after taking a bend too fast, in one of Amtrak’s deadliest accidents to date. New reports suggest that the train took a 50 mph at over 100 mph, twice the suggested limit, causing the engine and all seven cars to completely jump the tracks.
Survivors talked of being flung around in the cabin, luggage hitting people and seats coming loose and bouncing around in the carriage.
And sadly, this isn’t the first major crash this year. In February, a train derailed in Oxnard, CA after it collided with a pick up truck that had become stuck on the tracks. The train driver died and 30 other people were injured.
Then in March an Amtrak crashed into a tractor-trailer injuring 55 people.
Frighteningly, there seems to have been an increase in Amtrak accidents year-on-year for the past four years, with an even sharper increase in rail accident fatalities - just five were reported last year and six the previous year. This year we have already seen 12 fatalities, including those from last nights accident.
One thing that always springs to mind around reports of a rail accident, is: Why are there are no seat belts on board passenger trains?
Why is this? And after this spate of fatal accidents, are seat belts something that should be made compulsory?
“This has long been a concern,” said Deborah Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board, during a TV appearance on Wednesday while discussing the Philadelphia crash.
“When you look at the environment on trains, they aren’t required to restrain passengers or luggage.”
But surprisingly, most experts agree that seat belts on trains are actually a BAD idea.
A 2006 study by the Transit Cooperative Research Program into rail safety found that seat belts are not a practical option to improve passenger safety.
It said that many passengers were unlikely to actually use the belts and that, in the case of an accident, can cause some major problems. Those problems would stem from those without wearing seat belts colliding with those that were, compounding the number of injuries.
A similar study published by the British Rail Safety & Standards Board the following year found that even if everyone did were seat belts, they could still do more harm than good.
The five-year study looked specifically into the the case for seat belt use on trains and concluded that traumatic injuries were likely to be more substantial when a passenger was wearing a two point seat belt (like one found on an airplane).
Although the study also admitted that “it is extremely difficult to model crash test dummies for the numerous passenger configuration scenarios.”
So if seat belts aren’t the answer for making rail passengers safer, what is?
With broken rails or rail welds being the leading cause of train derailments, it seems that the Federal Railroad Administration is responsible for ensuring tracks and trains are in proper working order.
And Amtrak is in the process of installing a advanced signal system, called Positive Train Control, that will help to control train speeds.
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