Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation R-16-035
Details
Synopsis: 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. 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.
Recommendation: TO THE FEDERAL RAILROAD ADMINISTRATION: Conduct research to evaluate the causes of passenger injuries in passenger railcar derailments and overturns and evaluate potential methods for mitigating those injuries, such as installing seat belts in railcars and securing potential projectiles
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Open - Unacceptable Response
Mode: Railroad
Location: Philadelphia, PA, United States
Is Reiterated: Yes
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: DCA15MR010
Accident Reports: Preliminary Report: Railroad ​DCA15MR010Derailment of Amtrak Passenger Train 188
Report #: RAR-16-02
Accident Date: 5/12/2015
Issue Date: 6/9/2016
Date Closed:
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: FRA (Open - Unacceptable Response)
Keyword(s):

Safety Recommendation History
From: NTSB
To: FRA
Date: 6/24/2019
Response: Reiterated in the Railroad Accident Report RAR-19-01: Amtrak Passenger Train 501 Derailment DuPont, Washington December 18, 2017, Adopted on May 21, 2019 and published on June 24, 2019, notation number 58913 and accident number RRD18MR001. On May 12, 2015, less than 2 years after the Metro-North derailment, Amtrak train 188 derailed near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (NTSB 2016). Four passengers were ejected and killed. The NTSB accident report discussed the FRA’s current passenger equipment safety regulations, which did not require protection from lateral forces caused by derailments and overturns. The injuries in the Amtrak train 188 accident illustrated the need for railcar safety design standards to address such forces. The NTSB’s report about the Amtrak train 188 accident concluded that, although the passenger equipment safety standards in 49 CFR Part 238 provide some level of protection for occupants, the current requirements did not ensure that occupants are protected in some types of accidents, and that railroad occupant safety research and regulations should better reflect the different types of accidents that were occurring and employ a systematic approach that considers the causes of injury during derailments in which occupants may be thrown or struck by loose objects. As a result, the NTSB issued two recommendations to the FRA addressing improvements needed to the FRA’s occupant protection standards: Conduct research to evaluate the causes of passenger injuries in passenger railcar derailments and overturns and evaluate potential methods for mitigating those injuries, such as installing seat belts in railcars and securing potential projectiles. (R-16-35) When the research specified in Safety Recommendation R-16-35 identifies safety improvements, use the findings to develop occupant protection standards for passenger railcars that will mitigate passenger injuries likely to occur during derailments and overturns. (R-16-36) The FRA responded to these recommendations on August 23, 2017, indicating that through its Rail Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) Passenger Safety Working Group, it had continually supported numerous research activities evaluating the causes of passenger injuries in various train derailment and collision scenarios. The FRA said that its effort supported new industry standards and federal regulation where necessary, including a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) updating and supplementing its passenger equipment safety standards. The FRA went on to discuss its belief that, unlike accidents in the automobile and air transportation modes, adding seat belts in passenger railcars was not an effective way to increase safety because the purpose of seat belts was to allow occupants to survive the deceleration of the volume within which they are contained. According to the FRA, passenger rail coaches experience a peak deceleration of one-fourth that of automobiles during a collision and, therefore, the interior of a typical passenger railcar provides a level of protection to passengers, without the need for seat belts, at least as effective as the protection provided to automobile and air transport passengers. The FRA also wrote in its August 23, 2017, letter, that it had extensively evaluated the effectiveness and practicality of available occupant protections such as seat belts, and it concluded that focusing efforts on passenger containment and interior attachment integrity, and ensuring that passengers survive secondary impacts, were the most effective methods of preventing and mitigating passenger injuries. The FRA indicated that it would continue to support and perform research to evaluate the causes of passenger injuries in train derailments and collisions as specific issues arise, but it did not plan to initiate a separate new research program. The NTSB does not agree with the FRA that its current research program and regulations effectively address protecting passengers in railcars involved in derailments and overturns. In the span of 4 years, the NTSB has investigated three major railroad accidents involving passenger railcar derailments that resulted in significant lateral acceleration, for which containment did not adequately protect the 11 passengers killed after being ejected from the railcars. In addition, containment did not fully protect the over 300 passengers hospitalized in these accidents. The NTSB concludes that this accident shows the need for the FRA to take action on Safety Recommendations R-16-35 and -36, which addressed the FRA’s occupant protection standards. Therefore, the NTSB reiterates Safety Recommendations R-16-35 and -36 to the FRA, which are reclassified OPEN—UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: NTSB
To: FRA
Date: 6/24/2019
Response: Reiterated in the Railroad Accident Report RAR-19-01: Amtrak Passenger Train 501 Derailment DuPont, Washington December 18, 2017, Adopted on May 21, 2019 and published on June 24, 2019, notation number 58913 and accident number RRD18MR001.

From: FRA
To: NTSB
Date: 8/23/2017
Response: -From Heath Hall, Acting Administrator: This reply is in response to the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) June 9, 2016, letter to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regarding the NTSB 's Safety Recommendations R-16-35 and R-16-36. Enclosed is FRA's response to these recommendations. FRA believes its ongoing efforts to improve passenger safety address the specific directives in these recommendations. Therefore, FRA respectfully requests NTSB classify Safety Recommendations R-16-35 and R-16-36 as, "Closed-Acceptable Response." Since forming the Passenger Equipment Safety Standards Working Group in 1995, and continuing with the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee's (RSAC) Passenger Safety Working beginning in 2003, as discussed below, FRA has continually supported numerous research activities evaluating the causes of passenger injuries in various train derailment and collision scenarios. This ongoing effort aims to mitigate the causes of such injuries by supporting new industry standards and, where necessary, pursuing Federal regulation. The American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) recently issued standard for "fixed workstation tables, "and FRA's recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) updating and supplementing its Passenger Equipment Safety Standards (PESS), are two examples of this continual effort to improve passenger rail safety. Current research indicates that unlike in the automobile and air transportation modes, adding seat belts in passenger railcars is not the most effective way to increase safety.3 The purpose of passenger protection devices such as seatbelts is to allow occupants to survive the deceleration of the volume within which they are contained. During a collision, deceleration of volume varies significantly based on transportation mode. Passenger rail coaches experience a peak deceleration of one fourth that of automobiles during a collision. As such, the interior of a typical passenger rail coach can provide a level of protection to passengers, without active restraints, at least as effective in preventing fatality as the protection provided to automobile and air transport passengers. FRA has conducted extensive evaluation of the effectiveness and practicality of available mitigation methods for occupant protection. Based on this work, FRA has concluded that focusing efforts on passenger containment, interior attachment integrity, and ensuring that passengers survive secondary impacts are the most effective methods of preventing and mitigating passenger injuries. Specifically, FRA's regulations impose attachment strength requirements on seats and on any component in the passenger compartment which is mounted to the floor, ceiling, sidewalls, or end walls and projects into the passenger compartment more than 1 inch from the surface or surfaces to which it is mounted. See 49 C.F.R. §§ 238.5, 238.233, 238.435. These regulations for Tier I and Tier II passenger equipment also require that overhead storage racks in a passenger car provide, at a minimum, longitudinal and lateral restraint for stowed articles, and FRA has explicitly proposed such requirements to minimize the risk of hazardous projectiles in Tier III passenger equipment in FRA's recent NPRM. See proposed 49 C.F.R. § 238.737, 81 Fed. Reg. 88006, 88057. FRA will continue to support and perform research to evaluate the causes of passenger injuries in train derailments and collisions as specific issues arise, but it does not envision a separate comprehensive research program in this area now.

From: NTSB
To: FRA
Date: 6/9/2017
Response: On May 17, 2016, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) adopted its report concerning the May 12, 2015, accident in which Amtrak passenger train 188 derailed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.1 Additional information about this accident and the resulting recommendations may be found in the report of the investigation, which can be accessed at our website, http://www.ntsb.gov, under report number RAR-16/02. As a result of this investigation, we reiterated Safety Recommendation R-14-74 to the Federal Railroad Administration; reclassified Safety Recommendations R-15-28, R-15-29, and R-15-30 to Amtrak; closed Safety Recommendation R-13-23 to the Federal Railroad Administration; and issued 11 new safety recommendations, including one to Amtrak; one to the American Public Transportation Association and the Association of American Railroads; two to the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Fire Department, and the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management; one to the mayor of Philadelphia; one to the National Association of State EMS 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; and the following five recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration.