For the second year in a row, Amtrak finds itself at the center of controversy in southern Columbia County.
The locomotive and the first passenger car of Adirondack Train No. 68 on a run from Montreal to New York City last Wednesday uncoupled near Stuyvesant and sped forward, leaving the rest of the train behind. Passenger Helen Crane, of Albany, was one of about 30 passengers in the runaway car. “We thought we were all going to die,” Crane said later. A resourceful Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student named Reuben Clarke pulled the emergency cord slowly so as to slow the cars to a stop without causing them to derail.
Amtrak issued a statement last week ruling out speed as a factor in the accident and that the company is heading up the investigation.
Part of Amtrak’s troubles in Columbia County began last year with fences installed to improve safety along a stretch of track near Germantown. The fences brought in to make the track area safer also threatened to cut Germantown and several other communities off from their own waterfronts. Town supervisors protested as Amtrak reluctantly and vaguely answered questions about the fencing project.
The cars involved in the incident were taken to an Albany maintenance facility for full inspection, Amtrak said Friday. But Amtrak did not respond to questions about the exact speed of the train when it separated or the speed limit along the tracks near Stuyvesant. The National Transportation Safety Board and state police will not be part of the investigation.
The vague information, first about the fencing and now about the train uncoupling, compels us to recommend an independent investigation of last week’s incident. There was no derailment, no injuries and, most important, no lives lost, but an independent probe, or at least a second set of eyes, will allay passenger fears.
“We could have died and they’re trying to sweep it under the rug,” Helen Crane said Friday. The locomotive data recorder and the full inspection of the cars should determine the exact cause of this most unusual incident. We believe Amtrak’s probe will be sufficient, but an independent probe backing up the official investigation is the most likely way of ensuring that this will never happen again. Amtrak’s passengers deserve that much.