Never would I have expected my phone would go off late Tuesday evening alerting me that an Amtrak train I take regularly had derailed. Does that mean I never considered a derailment as a possible event?
Absolutely not. The very sad reality about the horrific events of Amtrak 188 is that a safety technology mandated by the end of the year might have prevented the accident. I would not jump to the conclusion that PTC (Positive Train Control) would have prevented it outright, but I think we now have a damn good reason to speed up its deployment throughout the US on all rail lines.
However, even without mandatory PTC, travel by rail overall remains a very safe and efficient mode of transportation. I would still gladly take the train over flying or driving. It is still far too early to speculate the cause of the crash, but I think the locomotive used, Cities Sprinter 601, could play a key role. I’ve yet to be on an Amtrak train pulled by one that did not have a problem. Does that change my trust of Amtrak? No. Do I trust the maker of the Cities Sprinter, Siemens?
Not even if you paid me to say I do. It is not the first piece of transit equipment I’ve been on from Siemens that has had problems. The D1 and D2-Class Combino trams in Melbourne are the worst trams I’ve ever been on. They were loud, cramped (thanks to the bogies sticking into the saloons to maintain low-floor classification), and you could feel them passing from six floors up when their center bogies had an issue. The Siemens Nexas fleet on Metro was decent, but I’d still prefer an Alstom X’Trapolis – especially when (surprise!) they didn’t have braking issues.
So, would I call Amtrak safe after Tuesday night’s events? Yes. No mode of transit is perfectly safe, and after several years of service, eventually no one has a perfect safety record. Do I plan on changing my travel plans for Memorial Day (and mom’s birthday) via Amtrak? Only if I have to. I would actually consider traveling on one of SEPTA’s Silverliner Vs to be safer than the typical Amfleet coaches Amtrak runs on the Northeast Regional and Keystone services. Their newer construction means they’re built to newer safety standards, but if the track is ultimately at fault for Tuesday’s accident, the Silverliner and Amfleet might equally matched with regards to safety. But, I’m not the one to make the official call on that.
Bottom line, I have no plans to stop taking the train. It is absolutely horrific and devastating what happened Tuesday night, and my heart goes out to those we lost as a result. If the line is still down for my holiday travel plans, I have a backup plan ready, which I consider more of an opportunity than an inconvenience. Is taking Amtrak from 30th Street Station to Metropark the easiest way to go? Without a doubt. But, I wouldn’t mind seeing what taking PATCO to the River Line to Trenton to Metropark (or to Rahway to Little Silver) would be like. It’s been awhile since I had a good rail adventure (that might end up being cheaper in the end.)