Wife of Conductor Killed in Deadly S.C. Train Crash Sues Rail Companies for Negligence

By | February 12, 2018

The wife of a conductor killed in the crash of an Amtrak train with a parked freight train in South Carolina earlier this month filed suit Thursday against Amtrak and the other rail company, saying they were to blame for the man’s death.

In the lawsuit, Michael Cella’s widow accuses Amtrak and CSX Corp. of negligence in the death of her husband. Cella, 36, and Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf, 54, were killed Feb. 4 when their New York-to-Miami passenger train slammed into a CSX freight train stopped on a sidetrack. More than 100 passengers were injured.

CSX, which owns the freight train and operates the track on which both trains were traveling, was negligent in a number of areas, according to the suit filed in Florida. That includes failing to make sure a warning signal system was in place, and also locking a manual switch that forced the passenger train onto the side track where the empty freight train was parked, it said.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board have said that, after offloading cargo at a nearby yard, the empty CSX train was moved to a side track with a train switch locked in place. When the Amtrak train came along, it diverted onto the siding, slamming into the CSX train.

Because of that negligence, according to the suit, Cella “was forced to endure the horrendous fear of his pending demise as the Amtrak Train approached the deadly collision point,” his final moments marked by “great conscious pain and suffering.”

The suit also said CSX “deliberately disabled” warning signals along the pathway that would have warned oncoming trains about the diversion and also didn’t have a safety system installed that could have likely prevented the crash.

The system, called positive train control, uses sensors and GPS to prevent trains from colliding or derailing. Investigators have said that warning signals had been disabled in the area of the crash because that control system was in the process of being installed.

Congress mandated the use of positive train control in 2008, but its implementation has been delayed. Rail companies currently have until the end of this year to put it in place.

The lawsuit accuses Amtrak, Cella’s employer, of failing to ensure he had a safe working environment. Both Amtrak and CSX declined to comment on the suit, which seeks unspecified damages. One of the passengers injured in the crash also has filed suit against CSX.