Photo of the RailVac vacuum excavation machine on track 2 at the accident site.

​RailVac vacuum excavation machine on track 2 at the accident site.​

Amtrak Train Collision with Maintenance-of-Way Equipment

What Happened

​​On April 3, 2016, about 7:50 a.m. eastern daylight time, southbound Amtrak train 89 (train 89) struck a backhoe with a worker inside at milepost 15.7 near Chester, Pennsylvania. The train was authorized to operate on main track 3 (track 3) at the maximum authorized speed of 110 mph. Beginning on the morning of April 1, Amtrak had scheduled track-bed restoration―ballast vacuuming—at milepost 15.7 on track 2 on the Philadelphia to Washington Line. Track 2 had to be taken out of service between control points Baldwin (milepost 11.7) and Hook (milepost 16.8) for the 55-hour duration of the project. As train 89 approached milepost 15.7, the locomotive engineer saw equipment and workers on and near track 3 and initiated an emerg​​ency brake application. The train speed was 106 mph before the emergency brake application and 99 mph when it struck the backhoe. Two roadway workers were killed, and 39 other people were injured. Amtrak estimated property damages to be $2.5 million.

What We Found

​The probable cause of the accident was the unprotected fouled track that was used to route a passenger train at maximum authorized speed; the absence of supplemental shunting devices, which Amtrak required but the foreman could not apply because he had none; and the inadequate transfer of job site responsibilities between foremen during the shift change that resulted in failure to clear the track, to transfer foul time, and to conduct a job briefing. Allowing these unsafe actions to occur were the inconsistent views of safety and safety management throughout Amtrak’s corporate structure that led to the company’s deficient system safety program that resulted in part from Amtrak’s inadequate collaboration with its unions and from its failure to prioritize safety. Also contributing to the accident was the Federal Railroad Administration’s failure to require redundant signal protection, such as shunting, for maintenance-of-way work crews who depend on the train dispatcher to provide signal protection, prior to the accident.​

What We Recommended

We made safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, American Railway and Airway Supervisors Association, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. The National Transportation Safety Board also reiterates a recommendation to the Federal Railroad Administration.​​