Transportation bill would boost money to Amtrak victims, rail safety

December 1, 2015

By Jonathan Tamari of the Philadelphia Inquirer

WASHINGTON – More money could become available to the victims of the Amtrak #188 derailment in Philadelphia under a compromise transportation bill expected to be introduced in Congress Tuesday.Website Insert Gathering of Professionals 1 copy

The compromise bill will also include new money to help railroads install Positive Train Control, a safety system that could have stopped the Philadelphia crash by remotely slowing or stopping the speeding train.

The sweeping bill, likely to race to passage this week, would change a federal law that limits how much railroads can be required to pay after crashes, according to aides close to the negotiations.

The limit for the May incident would rise to roughly $295 million, up from a long-standing $200 million cap. Trial lawyers said that amount, imposed in 1997, would not be enough to cover the claims in an wreck that killed eight and injured more than 200, including many who suffered life-altering injuries requiring multiple surgeries and long-term care.

Going forward, the cap will increase to match inflation every five years.

“When accidents occur, victims and their families should be adequately compensated and not subject to an outdated liability cap,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who pushed to raise the limit after the Philadelphia crash.  “This agreement will go a long way toward helping the victims and their families get the compensation they deserve.”

The final bill makes clear that the federal limit, however, will not apply to state or local agencies – such as SEPTA – that operate in jurisdictions with their own, usually much lower, liability caps.

The liability change is one small piece of a massive, five-year transportation bill that touches on rail, highway safety and road programs. The measure has been the subject of grueling negotiations throughout the year, as lawmakers debated an array of provisions and how to pay for them.

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