Four people went to hospitals with serious injuries after three subway trains got involved in a chain-reaction crash outside of Philadelphia on February 21, 2017. The rear-end collision and derailment happened at a turnaround in a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) rail yard off 69th Street in Upper Darby, PA.
According to a detailed report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the wreck began when Train 57 ran into the back of Train 67. That initial impact caused several rail cars to jump the tracks and hit Train 51 as it passed on a parallel line.
The operator of Train 57 sustained critical injuries, while three people aboard Train 67 received emergency medical treatment before being discharged from the hospital. No immediate cause for the rear-end collision could be determined.
SEPTA officials are cooperating with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board to figure out what went wrong. Subway and light rail trains serving the Philadelphia metro are equipped with positive train control (PTC). That system makes uses of sensors and continuous communication between crew members and dispatchers to automatically apply the brakes on trains at risk for having accidents. It is unclear at this time if the PTC mechanisms were engaged on Train 57 because it was technically out of service when this crash happened in Upper Darby.
If the PTC system malfunctioned or got switched off at a central location when it should have been up and running, the critically injured subway train operator could have strong grounds for filing an injury claim under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. Most often referred to as FELA, the law makes a railroad employer liable for paying compensation to any worker who suffers an injury or illness as a result of a violation of safety laws, regulations or written procedures. U.S. law currently requires commuter rail lines like SEPTA to use PTC.
No matter what happened, the one SEPTA employee and two passengers on Train 67 almost definitely have legitimate claims for coverage of medical bills and other damages. They appear to have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Philadelphia subway and light rail system has had safety problems in the past. The Federal Railroad Administration recorded 2,605 employee-on-duty injuries for Pennsylvania commuter rail lines from 2004 through 2013, the last year for which complete data are available. One incident resulted in a worker’s death, and five commuter rail employees developed disabling illnesses on the job.
Certainly, SEPTA cannot be blamed for each of those health and safety problems. When evidence does show that the organization or its managers and supervisors failed to adequately protect workers, however, the transit authority must be held accountable for paying compensation and damages to the victims of its negligence.