January 17, 2018

DeFazio, Capuano Press Amtrak on Improving Safety Culture and Speeding the Installation of Positive Train Control

January 17, 2018

Mr. Richard Anderson

President and Chief Executive Officer


60 Massachusetts Avenue NE

Washington, DC 20002

Dear Mr. Anderson:

We write today requesting further information on two issues that should be high priorities for Amtrak—improving your safety culture and speeding the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC). On December 18, 2017, Amtrak’s Cascades train 501 derailed in DuPont, Washington, killing three passengers and injuring 62 passengers and crewmembers. Eight individuals in highway vehicles were also injured. One day after this tragic incident, you hosted a media conference during which you spoke about Amtrak’s weak safety culture, acknowledging:

We have to continue to improve and evolve the safety culture at Amtrak”… “You can count on Amtrak following through on NTSB recommendations and continuing the good work that was started by my predecessor Wick Moorman, the former CEO of Norfolk Southern railroad, a year ago and continuing to work to reform and invest in the safety culture of Amtrak.[1]

             We appreciate your continued focus on safety, but this is not the first time that Amtrak has publicly acknowledged what appears to be a persistent, and disturbing, relaxed safety culture that permeates throughout the organization. On April 3, 2016, Amtrak train 89, travelling from Philadelphia to Washington, struck a backhoe in Chester, Pennsylvania, which resulted in the death of two roadway workers and injuries to 39 others. In the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) final report on the incident, the NTSB cited a weak safety culture at Amtrak as a contributing factor:

The Chester accident investigation revealed more than 2 dozen unsafe conditions—many involving safety rule violations and risky behaviors by workers. These safety shortcomings occurred across several levels of the Amtrak organization—maintenance of way, dispatchers, management—and reveal Amtrak’s weak safety management. An inconsistent vision of safety throughout the organization, hostile attitudes between labor and management about no-tolerance rule violations, and ill-equipped work crews were among the observed safety culture. Moreover, it is disconcerting that three of the Amtrak employees involved in the accident tested positive for potentially impairing drugs. The company’s safety program and its implementation at all levels of the company were found to be weak and focused on only the lowest level of employees: the roadway workers.[2]

           As a result of this investigation, the NTSB made numerous recommendations to Amtrak and labor organizations to improve safety. These recommendations included a recommendation for Amtrak and labor organizations to work collaboratively to develop a comprehensive safety management system that bolsters safety goals and programs with executive management accountability; incorporates risk management controls for all operations affecting employees, contractors, and the traveling public; improves continually through safety data monitoring and feedback; and is promoted at all levels of the company.

          A week prior to the November 14, 2017 release of the NTSB’s final report on the Chester incident, Amtrak sent a letter to NTSB Chairman Sumwalt highlighting steps Amtrak has taken since the incident. These steps include formation of the Safety, Compliance and Training organization in February 2017, aimed at improving safety programs, organizational culture, and training; completing a gap assessment focused on the safety organization (in place at the time of the incident) and the needs of the corporation; and developing a safety management system.

          Unfortunately, it appears that Amtrak’s efforts to strengthen safety practices did not go far enough. NTSB Chairman Sumwalt stated at the November hearing that Amtrak’s “safety culture is failing, and is primed to fail again, until and unless Amtrak changes the way it practices safety management. Investigators found a labor-management relationship so adversarial that safety programs have become contentious at the bargaining table, with the unions ultimately refusing to participate.”[3] In fact, Amtrak leadership has acknowledged its weak safety culture numerous times in the past two years, with little reassurance to the travelling public and employees that safety truly is a top priority. Amtrak must do better.

            We would like to know what “safety culture” weaknesses Amtrak has identified throughout the organization and what specific steps Amtrak is taking to resolve them immediately. If there are problems holding the organization back from advancing the best safety practices, we would like Amtrak to identify them. Amtrak’s labor unions have been copied on this letter and we welcome their views on safety at Amtrak as well.

            Acknowledging that Amtrak has a weak safety culture is the first step toward fixing it, but the travelling public should not have to wait for another incident to know whether Amtrak has sufficiently addressed those issues. Amtrak should be the safest passenger rail service provider in the world, and we hope to help you on that trajectory.

            To that end, we believe the installation of PTC should also be a top priority for Amtrak. We are in receipt of your January 9, 2018 letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao regarding Amtrak’s progress toward installation of PTC. In the letter, Amtrak states that it believes “the installation of PTC on the required routes nationwide will make the entire U.S. rail network safer for passengers, railroad employees, and the cities and towns which the national rail network traverses.” We agree, but Amtrak, Sound Transit, and the State of Washington, should have realized this before it initiated service on the Point Defiance Bypass route and installed PTC, regardless of the December 31, 2018 deadline mandated by Congress.

            Amtrak maintains it did not own the locomotives or the infrastructure over which it operated on December 18, 2017. That is no excuse. As the operator, you are responsible for safety. Since the incident, it has become increasingly clear that we have no idea what the status is for PTC implementation on equipment that Amtrak does not own but operates, such as State-supported routes, like the Point Defiance Bypass, and on routes that Amtrak does not own but where Amtrak trains operate. As you know, this information has not been included in your reports to FRA. Instead, Amtrak only reports on progress toward implementing PTC across routes and on equipment that Amtrak owns and controls, leaving out large portions of Amtrak’s operations.

            We want and need the full picture, regardless of whether Amtrak owns it. If you operate it or operate on it, we want to know the status of PTC implementation in detail, including information on locomotives that are equipped by route, installation of track segments and other infrastructure by route, and information on whether your back office servers are connected to the back office servers of other railroads by route. By February 16, 2018, we ask that you provide us with the detail you are expected to provide the FRA in annual and quarterly reports for each route Amtrak owns or operates (by route).

            If you need have any questions regarding this request, please contact me or have your staff contact Elizabeth Hill, Democratic staff of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, at 202-225-3274.           


PETER DeFAZIO                                                                              MICHAEL CAPUANO        

Ranking Member                                                                                Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials


cc:       Transportation Communications Union

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen

            Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees

Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation Workers

Transportation Workers Union

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen

International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers


Fraternal Order of Police

National Conference of Firemen and Oilers Division, SEIU

American Train Dispatchers Association

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and Blacksmiths