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Amtrak faces safety challenges

Amtrak has been working to improve both its safety record and its customer service. Generally, the trains run on schedule between New York and Washington, D.C., since the company owns those tracks, but in other places, they are often delayed by freight trains.

There have been accidents and several near-misses in this fiscal year. In its first 10 months, three passengers and four employees died. In addition, nearly 800 passengers and 585 employees were injured. The company has until Nov. 1 to submit a plan of operation to the government that includes addressing these safety issues. Annually, it has around 115 operating violations. However, in the past year, it has had fewer incidents of tampering with a safety device, running a red signal and speeding. It also has plans to improve its drug and alcohol polices and testing and make its confidential reporting system more accessible to employees. According to the chief safety officer, it will take several years for these changes to lead to real improvements in the company's safety culture.

The company is also working to get a feature known as Positive Train Control up and running on all its lines. PTC reduces collisions by automatically limiting speed. The Northeast corridor has it, but other lines will not by the end of the year.

Unlike employees in other jobs, railroad employees who are injured are covered not by workers' compensation but by the Federal Employers Liability Act. FELA applies not just to Amtrak workers but to workers on a number of other lines such as Long Island Railroad and PATH Rail. Amtrak workers or workers on other railroads who are injured in a train accident because of speeding, ignoring a signal or for other reasons may want to contact an attorney about filing a FELA claim to get compensation while they are recovering.

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