Was ill-fated Amtrak train 188 running late on Tuesday night? Probably at least a few minutes late, it seems. My friend told me to check the Moovit app to see how late the train would be, but I didn’t have it downloaded onto my phone! Amtrak’s schedule says the Monday through Friday local is supposed to arrive in Trenton, N.J. at 9:37. Last night’s horrific crash occurred just past Philadelphia — just a few minutes outside the station — at “around 9:30” according to multiple reports. The trip between the two cities is supposed to take 28 minutes, so it seems reasonable to guestimate that the train was at least 15-20 minutes late. Why does this matter? Investigators have already noted that the Amtrak trains must navigate a bend at the site of the crash, and the speed limit on that stretch of track is 50 mph. Speeding will be a point of inquiry as investigators examine the incident. The Wall Street Journal is already reporting that the train may have been traveling close to 100 mph when it entered the curve, though that report, like all early reports, should be considered preliminary.
I ride the NYC-Washington D.C. train pretty frequently, and I know it is often running late, usually due to tremendous congestion in the Northeast Corridor and screwy agreements that often give passenger trains lower priority. Sometimes, during winter, trains can be hours behind schedule due to equipment not working in the cold temperatures. Companies do try to avoid this as much as possible by putting things like the Powerblanket on their equipment to avoid faults. As an avid train rider, I have wondered about trains speeding in an attempt to make up time.
I’m also the grandson of a train engineer who was falsely accused of causing a horrific, famous train crash during the 1930s, so I am sensitive to any rush to blame such incidents on human error. After all, the reasons a train might be speeding, and might jump tracks, are systematic. The fact that there’s any stretch of track between NY and DC with a 50 mph speed limit is an indictment of our train system and our dedication to infrastructure. This is a tragedy that’s incomprehensible, but its causes will probably be easy to understand. May God comfort everyone impacted by this.