The Amtrak rail company suffered a major, tragic PR crisis recently after a deadly train derailment in Washington State. A fast-moving passenger train jumped the tracks, with some cars landing in the woods and others landing on a busy interstate below the rail overpass. At least three people were killed, and dozens more were injured.
After the accident, the interstate was closed for hours as wreckage was cleaned up and rescue crews attempted to help wounded people trapped in derailed cars. While the investigation is ongoing, Amtrak has already said it would pay the costs associated with the derailment, as well as any medical expenses related to the victims. That report came from Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who said he was told this by Amtrak President Richard Anderson.
Inslee added that Anderson would see to it that technology will be added to trains statewide, which would allow them to be slowed or stopped in the event of an emergency. This tech, known as positive train control, must be in place before the end of 2018.
There was no positive train control on the part of the rail where the deadly crash happened. While the technology has been available for years, some in the rail industry have been reluctant to add the tech to their railways.
Federal investigators are currently investigating the crash, and it’s expected that further regulations will be passed down as a result of this deadly crash. One of the big questions investigators want to answer is why was the train traveling at least twice as fast as it should have been at that point on the track. There were, apparently, at least two people in the cab at the time of the accident, the engineer and a conductor-in-training. Neither applied the brake, which kicked on automatically … but not soon enough.
The incident is yet another blow to the nation’s troubled rail transit system. While passenger rail, including high-speed rail, is common in Europe and Japan, it has yet to catch on here in the United States, where many people still prefer to use personal cars for transportation and see no need for passenger rail.
For rail travel to become more popular in the United States, the industry has a lot of work to do. The days in which movies had stars like Bing Crosby singing on trains are long gone, and the mystique trains once had is all but absent from the current generations. American kids still love them, but that love doesn’t tend to transcend childhood. The rail industry could do something about that, but, yet again, they have more immediate concerns.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.