In the coverage of the Philadelphia train wreck, I haven’t heard anyone ask this question. Why was there only one engineer? We don’t trust our lives to just one operator on an airliner or a ferry boat, so why is it allowed in a locomotive pulling tons of steel and hundreds of passengers?
The Amtrak engineer had no back-up, nor did the driver of a Metro-North commuter train that derailed in 2013 in New York or the California Metrolink train that collided with a freight train in 2008 — all with fatalities.
The conductor is responsible for the crew and interactions with passengers, not for driving the train. If the engineer had a medical emergency or was distracted, who would take over? In the Philadelphia case, the engineer says he can’t remember what happened.
And what about freight trains? Just after the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway downsized to one-man crews in 2013, a crude-oil train rolled downhill and destroyed a town because the engineer failed to set a brake properly.
Before we invest billions of dollars ($50,000 per mile) in positive train control systems, why not take the simple step of requiring two qualified engineers in every locomotive?