On April 24, 2018, about 8:58 a.m. local time, northbound Amtrak train 86 struck and killed an Amtrak rail gang watchman near the Bowie State Train Station in Bowie, Maryland. The accident occurred on main track 1 at milepost 119.2 on the Philadelphia to Washington line, located on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. At the time of the accident, main track 2 was out of service under a continuous track outage for track maintenance, and the adjacent tracks immediately to the east and west of main track 2 (main tracks 1 and 3, respectively) were in service for train movements. Three watchmen were protecting the roadway workers and watching for trains moving on adjacent tracks to warn workers of approaching trains. One watchman was positioned near the boarding platform, another was positioned in a nearby curve, and the third watchman was positioned toward the end of the curve, near a work gang of welders. The third watchman was the employee struck by the train. No passengers or crewmembers on Amtrak train 86 were injured.
Amtrak train 86 departed Washington, D.C.’s Union Station about 8:40 a.m., destined for New York’s Penn Station. The train was authorized to operate on main track 1 at maximum authorized speeds between 105 and 110 mph. The accident occurred when Amtrak train 86 entered the work zone. Immediately before Amtrak train 86 arrived at the work zone, Maryland Area Rail Commuter train 421 was traveling southbound through the work zone on main track 3, preparing to service the southbound passenger platform at the Bowie State Train Station. When Amtrak train 86 passed the Bowie State Train Station on main track 1, the engineer noticed that the rail gang watchman was standing too close to the track’s edge, facing the roadway workers on main track 2 and the passing Maryland Area Rail Commuter train on main track 3. He was not looking toward Amtrak train 86’s approach and did not respond to the horn from the train nor the warnings from the other watchmen. The engineer applied emergency train braking, slowing the train to 98 mph, before striking and killing the rail gang watchman.
The probable cause of the Bowie accident was Amtrak’s insufficient site-specific safety work plan for the Bowie project that (1) did not consider the multiple main tracks in a high noise environment and (2) did not provide the rail gang watchman with a safe place to stand with level footing and sufficient sight distance to perform his duties, which led the rail gang watchman to stand on an active track in a work zone in the path of Amtrak train 86. Contributing to this accident was Amtrak’s decision to use train approach warning for roadway worker protection in lieu of the protections that could have been provided by the positive train control system.
We made recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation), and Amtrak and all Class I Railroads. We reiterated a recommendation to Amtrak.
Letter to DOT Secretary
Letter to CEOs of the Class I railroads