Amtrak crash liability to go up under new transportation bill

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WASHINGTON — Amtrak might have to pay more for claims from the May 12 Philadelphia derailment that killed eight people.

Under a new five-year transportation bill that became law with President Barack Obama's signature on Friday, Amtrak’s liability for crashes will increase from $200 million to $295 million according to It is unclear if the liability increase is retroactive to cover victims of the Philadelphia crash.

The legislation also requires that the U.S. Department of Transportation work with Amtrak to study the passenger carrier’s response to the derailment and to focus on how it handled the families of passengers affected by the crash.

The joint study will also look into how Amtrak can create more training for its employees, create a family assistance center at or near the derailment, and how to establish a system to identify and recover lost items from events such as the Philadelphia crash.

The legislation also gives the U.S. transportation secretary two years to issue rules that require audio and video recorders in the locomotives of passenger trains.

After reviewing the Philadelphia crash, the National Transportation Safety Board in July recommended that Amtrak install such devices to monitor train crews and to insure they are following proper procedures. The passenger carrier announced in May that it would install inward-facing cameras in Siemens ACS-64 locomotives similar to the one involved in the derailment.

Positive train control improvements were also included in the transportation bill with $199 million in grants for commuter agencies to install the technology. Railroads can also use federal money from the bill in the form of low-interest loans to install PTC.

UPDATE: Dec. 7, 2015 9:40 a.m. Central time. Restated what increased Amtrak liability might cover. Corrected status of bill that the President signed on Friday.
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