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Accident Report Detail

Derailment of Amtrak Passenger Train 188

Executive Summary

About 9:21 p.m. eastern daylight time on May 12, 2015, eastbound Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation) passenger train 188 derailed at milepost 81.62 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The train had just entered the Frankford Junction curve—where the speed is restricted to 50 mph—at 106 mph. It was dark and 81°F with no precipitation; visibility was 10 miles. As the train entered the curve, the locomotive engineer applied the emergency brakes. Seconds later, the train—one locomotive and seven passenger cars—derailed. There were 245 passengers, 5 on-duty Amtrak employees, and 3 off-duty Amtrak employees on board. Eight passengers were killed, and 185 others were transported to area hospitals.

This report addresses the following safety issues:

  • Crewmember situational awareness and management of multiple tasks. The National Transportation Safety board (NTSB) found that the Amtrak engineer accelerated his train to a high rate of speed in a manner consistent with how he habitually manipulated the controls when accelerating to a target speed, suggesting that he was actively operating the train rather than incapacitated moments before the accident. However, he accelerated to 106 mph without slowing the train for the curve at Frankford Junction, where the speed was restricted to 50 mph. After evaluating the circumstances of the accident, the NTSB found that the most likely reason the engineer failed to slow for the curve was he believed he was beyond the curve where the authorized speed was 110 mph, because of his loss of situational awareness. He lost his situational awareness because his attention was diverted to an emergency situation with a nearby Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train that had made an emergency stop after being struck by a projectile. This type of situation could be addressed by better crewmember training that focuses on preventative strategies for situations that could divert crewmember attention.
  • Positive train control. In the accident area, positive train control had not yet been implemented at the time of the accident, but it has since been implemented. The NTSB found that the accident could have been avoided if positive train control or another control system had been in place to enforce the permanent speed restriction of 50 mph at the Franklin Junction curve.
  • Passenger railcar window systems and occupant protection. The NTSB found that if the passenger car windows had remained intact and secured in the cars, some passengers would not have been ejected and would likely have survived the accident. Further, the passengers were not protected from serious injuries resulting from being thrown from their seats when the cars overturned. The NTSB concluded that the current passenger equipment safety standards are not adequate.
  • Transportation of the injured after mass casualty incidents. The NTSB found that, as a result of victims being transported to hospitals without coordination, some hospitals were over utilized while others were significantly underutilized during the response to the derailment. The NTSB further found that current Philadelphia Police Department, Philadelphia Fire Department, and Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management policies and procedures regarding transportation of patients in a mass casualty incident need to be better coordinated.

As a result of this investigation, the NTSB makes recommendations to Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, the American Public Transportation Association, the Association of American Railroads, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Fire Department, the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management, the mayor of the city of Philadelphia, the National Association of State EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Officials, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the National Emergency Management Association, the National Association of EMS Physicians, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Probable Cause

The NTSB determines that the probable cause of the accident was the engineer’s acceleration to 106 mph as he entered a curve with a 50 mph speed restriction, due to his loss of situational awareness likely because his attention was diverted to an emergency situation with another train. Contributing to the accident was the lack of a positive train control system. Contributing to the severity of the injuries were the inadequate requirements for occupant protection in the event of a train overturning.

Accident Location: Philadelphia , PA    
Accident Date: 5/12/2015
Accident ID: DCA15MR010

Date Adopted: 5/17/2016
NTSB Number: RAR-16-02
NTIS Number: PB2016-103218