Federal investigators are still looking at how CSX railway crews routed an Amtrak train into a parked freight train in Cayce, South Carolina, last weekend. But even if CSX should bear sole responsibility for the accident, Amtrak will likely end up paying crash victims’ legal claims with public money.
Amtrak pays for accidents it didn’t cause because of secretive agreements negotiated between the passenger rail company, which receives more than $1 billion annually in federal subsidies, and the private railroads, which own 97 percent of the tracks on which Amtrak travels.
Both Amtrak and freight railroads that own the tracks fight to keep those contracts secret in legal proceedings. But whatever the precise legal language, plaintiffs’ lawyers and former Amtrak officials say Amtrak generally bears the full cost of damages to its trains, passengers, employees and other crash victims — even in instances where crashes occurred as the result of a freight rail company’s negligence or misconduct.
Railroad industry advocates say that freight railways have ample incentive to keep their tracks safe for their employees, customers and investors. But