Oct 25, 2004
Since 1984, Amtrak has paid out more than 186 million dollars in damages for accidents that have killed 53 people and injured over 1,300. Amtrak may have paid, but most of these accidents were actually found to be the fault of the freight company that owns the tracks the trains ride on, particularly CSX, the largest freight company of all.
The accidents happen because the freight railroads do not keep up basic maintenance on their tracks and crossing signals. In a case stemming from a derailment in 1991, causing eight deaths and 77 injuries, Amtrak paid out over 88 million dollars in damages. CSX, whose unsafe tracks were found to have caused the crash, paid the Federal Railroad Administration the maximum fine – $20,000 – a slap on the wrist.
This bizarre arrangement, by which Amtrak pays out liability claims for accidents caused by other companies, has been set into law since Amtrak was formed in 1970. It was reaffirmed by Congress in 1997.
Amtrak, of course, gets most of its money from the U.S. government – that is, from taxpayers. The freight companies, by contrast, are privately owned corporations set up to make a profit. And this arrangement helps them do it, while giving them no reason to keep the tracks safe.
This amounts to a huge bailout for the big freight railroads – paid for by the very people who risk their lives riding on those rails.