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On Monday May 12, 2015, Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 completely derailed.
The Amtrak train, traveling on Amtrak's busiest route, derailed as it was going around a curve of track in Philadelphia Monday night, killing seven passengers and injuring 200 others. Passengers reported being thrown around their train cars and getting hit with flying luggage and debris.
Preliminary investigation findings show that the train was going over 100 mph before the derailment. The speed limit for that area of track was only 50 mph. Brandon Bostian, the engineer operating the train, applied full emergency breaks right before the crash, and now claims to have no memory of what happened.
So, who could be liable? What laws apply to an Amtrak crash?
Amtrak, as a common carrier, has a duty of utmost care to its passengers. However, in 1997, Congress put a liability cap of $200 million for all damages arising from a single accident. Some experts are claiming that, while $200 million sounds like a lot of money, it's not going to be enough to cover all the damages caused by the Philadelphia accident. The $200 million needs to cover attorney's fees, compensation for wrongful deaths, lost future earnings, damages to property, medical bills, and much more.
In 2008, lobbyists tried to get lawmakers to raise the liability cap after a train accident killed 25 and injured over 100 people. Estimated damages for that accident were about $600 million, three times the liability cap. However, Congress has yet to take any action to raise the liability caps.
As for safety regulations to ensure accidents like this don't happen again, railroad safety is governed by federal law instead of state local laws.
The Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970
The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) gives the Secretary of Transportation the authority to regulate all areas of railroad safety. These safety regulations are enforced by the Federal Railroad Administration and codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.
To keep railroad safety regulations uniform throughout the country, the FRSA prohibits states from making laws regulating railroad safety. States can only pass laws to address a unique local railroad safety problems as long as the laws are not incompatible with federal regulations.
So, any new safety regulations to prevent similar future accidents will have to come from the Federal Railroad Administration.