Amtrak and CSX are facing a lawsuit filed by the widow of the train engineer who was killed Feb. 4 when Amtrak Train 91 was wrongfully diverted onto a side track, where it collided with a CSX freight train near Cayce, South Carolina.
Attorneys for Christine Cella and her two children filed the lawsuit against Amtrak and CSX alleging negligence in the operation of a track switch caused 36-year-old Michael Cella’s death. The collision also killed 54-year-old Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf and injured 116 passengers and crew aboard the train, which was traveling from New York to Miami.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate the crash, and its final report may come several months from now, but investigators have determined that CSX had given up track authority to Amtrak but failed to pull the switch and return the track to its original state.
“On or about February 4, 2018 … the train was improperly and unexpectedly diverted into a side track known as the Silica Siding by means of a mainline switch which … was carelessly, negligently and recklessly misaligned and locked in reverse position towards the Silica Siding and away from the mainline track by [CSX employees],” the 14-page lawsuit filed in the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court on Feb. 8 alleges, according to Fleming Island, Florida’s Clay Today and other sources.
Track signals were out of operation at the time of the crash, which in the railroad industry means the train was headed into “dark territory.”
Ms. Cella’s lawsuit alleges that Jacksonville-based CSX “deliberately disabled and/or suspended the track side signals along its S-line in the area where the Amtrak train was traveling immediately prior to the alleged incident, thereby causing a portion of the S-line to be converted to dark territory.”
The signal-less tracks meant that “the operating crew of the Amtrak Train was without the benefit of any track side signals or positive train control (PTC), a system that if implemented could have likely prevented the two trains in this case from colliding,” the lawsuit asserts.
“One never completely heals from this kind of loss, but we look forward to joining others as passionate advocates in holding railroads and our nation’s transportation system accountable for the safety of passengers, crews, and communities,” Christine Cella said in a statement issued through her lawyer.