An Amtrak train heading from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed in southwest Kansas just after midnight on Monday morning, toppling five coaches and sending 29 people to the hospital. A spokesperson for Gray County, Kansas, said that none of the injuries were life-threatening. The cause of the derailment remains unclear and is being investigated. One passenger told NBC that he “did not feel an impact, [it] simply felt like we were traveling off the rails.”
Train travel is safer than it used to be, even if it sometimes feels otherwise. In 2014, the rail-accident rate was the lowest it has ever been, with 1,279 train derailments on federal railroads, most of which were minor slips with no injuries. This accident, however, is inevitably a reminder of last May’s derailment near Philadelphia that killed eight and injured 200. In that case, the cause of the crash is likely to have been a projectile, probably a rock, that hit but did not shatter the windshield of the train and briefly distracted its engineer. Just last week, a mudslide is thought to have triggered a derailment in California that injured 14.
In December, Congress passed the FAST Act, which fully funded Amtrak and authorized a further $1.45 billion for a variety of improvements. Some say that authorization is not nearly enough for Amtrak to complete its adoption of positive train control, a high-tech system that automatically brakes trains that are running above safe speeds.