PlanPhilly

Federal safety board faults now-retired SEPTA operator for 2017 El fender-bender

A newly released final report from the National Transportation Safety Board found a SEPTA train operator squarely to blame for a Market Frankford Line crash that injured four people last year.

The SEPTA operator entered the end-of-the-line loop at 69th Street Station in Upper Darby going 14 miles per hour — four over the posted limit, federal investigators noted in the report on the Feb. 21, 2017 collision.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the temporary loss of awareness and lack of proper speed control by the train 57 operator as the train entered the 69th Street station loop track,” read the report.

A problem with another train had diverted a third train onto the tracks and, because of the excessive speed, the operator of train 57  failed to hit the emergency breaks in time to prevent the collision. Two SEPTA train operators and two sleeping passengers who didn’t disembark at the last stop were injured in the crash.

The 69-year-old operator of 57 retired soon after the incident, said SEPTA Assistant General Manager for Systems Safety Jim Fox. “He never came back to property, he never operated after that, and he’s now retired from the authority.”

The NTSB issued preliminary recommendations soon after the crash, advising SEPTA to install inward- and outward-facing cameras on its Market Frankford trains to monitor employees and to install crash- and fire-resistant hard drives to retrieve operational data if there’s another crash. Fox said SEPTA’s on pace to have cameras installed by the end of the year.

“We have been moving forward into that implementation of the cameras,” he said. “Not just for Market Frankford, but we're taking the initiative to put them on our entire rail network at SEPTA — trolleys, Market Frankford, Broad Street, and our Regional Rail.”

The report noted that the operator used his cellphone a few minutes before the crash — in violation of SEPTA rules — but said that did not contribute to the accident.

SEPTA has also changed its signaling procedures in response to the crash — now a loop’s track can only have one train on it at a time.

The February incident was one of two SEPTA train crashes in 2017. Both occurred at 69th Street Station in Delaware County and injured a total of 39 people. That same year, Delaware County saw more than 5,000 car crashes, 2,443 of which caused injuries and 24 of which resulted in deaths.

 

About the author

Jim Saksa, Reporter

Jim Saksa is PlanPhilly's transportation reporter, which means he focuses on how Philly bikes, walks, drives, rolls, and rides around the region. 

Jim lives in Point Breeze and has also written for Slate, Philadelphia City Paper, and Technical.ly Philly. He tweets @Saksappeal and you can reach him at jsaksa@whyy.org.



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