By Sawyer Pollitt, Staff Writer
How do you feel about trains? Do you think they are safe? Fast? Efficient? How about deadly?
A string of recent Amtrak derailments has called into question the safety of rail transit in America.
On December 18, 2017, Amtrak high-speed rail 501 went off its tracks on the way from Seattle to Portland while transporting 78 passengers, killing three and injuring even more.
In an official statement from Amtrak, they blame the accident on a possible case of “distracted driving.” Amtrak states that the conductor may have been engaging in several activities that are generally considered to be less important than guiding a metal tube full of people around a sharp turn at 80 miles per hour.
As a concerned commuter, and known train passenger myself, this incident begs the questions of what kind of training these conductors receiving, the qualifications necessary to transport people at high speeds, as well as the safety protocols that Amtrak may have in place to prevent more accidents from happening in the future.
The first step to remedying the small issue of rising death tolls as the result of rail accidents should be to ensure the integrity of the conductors and instill in them the values of work-place competence.
To be fair, all of us get bored on the job, start to daydream, or maybe even doze off, but the one place where it is very important to not do that is while manning the helm of a multi-ton locomotive. All the blame, however, cannot be placed on the conductor alone.
Maybe this isn’t the result of on-the-job incompetence, maybe this is a failure on Amtrak’s part. Regardless of the undoubtedly rigorous instruction that goes into ensuring that the men and women who operate trains know what they’re doing, it is clear that more has to be done, seeing as trains are still crashing and people are still dying as recently as February 4, 2018.
The second step would be for Amtrak to ensure that current safety regulations are followed, and new ones are put in place because it is evident that the current regulations are lacking.
How do we know the current regulations are lacking? Because people are dying. The only sure-fire way to eliminate train accidents would be to either remove the trains completely or fill the tracks with so many trains that crashing would be impossible due to the sheer volume of trains.
Those two ideas are of course unrealistic, but looking at Amtrak’s safety record, so is providing a safe travel experience for the American people. One real solution to combating this could be an on-board breathalyzer test that must be passed to operate the train.
Much like those convicted of DUI, who have to prove their sobriety every time they operate their personal vehicle, this method would eliminate the possibility of intoxicated conducting which is a suspected cause of the Washington derailment according to Amtrak.
Hopefully Amtrak can improve their rail service and stop killing people. And in the future, train conductors can stay on the right track and prevent disasters like this from happening again.
Hopefully soon we can all take a train and be able to relax, secure in the knowledge that we’ll probably be fine.