The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) just released its preliminary report on the Upper Darby SEPTA train crash that occurred in August. A total of 43 people were transported to nearby hospitals to treat non-life threatening injuries. Although the NTSB has not yet determined the probable cause of the accident, the report cites problematic weather conditions and issues with communication and braking.
Although traveling by train is usually as safe as air travel, when train accidents happen they can be catastrophic due to speed, weight and other factors. And this is not the first time a train accident has happened in this area. In 2015, a fatal derailment occurred in Philadelphia – 8 people were killed and more than 200 others suffered serious injuries. Throughout its investigation, the NTSB determined that the train operator was liable.
The NTSB reports that on the day of the Upper Darby crash, it was lightly raining. The operator of the train first noticed this issue when he attempted to stop at a station and was unable to do so. He alerted the SEPTA operations control center of “slippery rails” and was permitted to go in reverse to drop passengers off at the platform. As he was approaching the 69th street platform, once again he was unable to stop and collided with an unoccupied train.
Although SEPTA officials have not yet commented on the NTSB’s preliminary report, multiple news outlets have been reporting that speed, human error or slippery, hazardous train tracks could be potential culprits behind the collision. The train operator claims he attempted to brake multiple times – and that he had successfully completed eight runs using the same train on that day before the crash took place; perhaps the train car began to experience some sort of technical difficulties, the train operator made an error or the tracks became unmanageable.
So far, at least one passenger has filed a lawsuit against SEPTA. The 26-year-old claims that he was knocked unconscious at the time of the accident, but that he was already concerned because the train operator had “overshot” two other platforms before the collision took place. The plaintiff also alleges that the train operator appeared to be “rushed”. He is seeking at least $50,000 in damages against the transportation company.
This is not the first train accident to happen at the 69th street terminal. Another accident happened in February 2017 – 4 people were injured when several train cars crashed into one another at the station. The NTSB is still investigating that crash. Investigative efforts like these can take up to a year because they involve reviewing video footage, conducting interviews with passengers, dispatchers and the train operator, assessing the physical damage to both trains and taking a serious look at SEPTA’s existing safety systems.
Many trains have positive train control (PTC) systems in place. PTCs are designed to automatically stop a train and prevent accidents from occurring. According to SEPTA, PTC systems are crucial because they can:
In May, just months before the accident, SEPTA announced that its Wilmington/Newark line – which the 69th street terminal is a stop on – had begun operating with PTC systems in place. Whether or not the system was properly online or could’ve been more effective in this situation is yet to be determined by NTSB officials.
We will continue to keep you updated as the NTSB and/or SEPTA release additional reports or make follow-up comments on this developing story.
If you or a loved one was injured in the Upper Darby SEPTA train crash, please contact our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading, and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call Galfand Berger at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.