Engineer, conductor file suits for $103 million in train crash They allege 2 companies, state at fault in collision

April 01, 1997|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

An engineer and conductor involved in last year's fatal train collision in Silver Spring are suing the state and both rail companies for more than $100 million, alleging negligence.

The two suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt last week, are the latest of several on behalf of crew and passengers injured or killed in the Feb. 16, 1996, crash of an Amtrak train and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) train.

Amtrak engineer Donald C. Noble and conductor Joseph R. Ruff allege in essentially identical suits that a train signal was removed from the tracks without any "safety justification," that another signal malfunctioned and that the MARC engineer was speeding.

In the suits, Noble and Ruff claim their injuries prevent them from returning to work. Each is seeking a total of $103 million from the Maryland Mass Transit Administration -- which hired CSX Transportation Inc. to operate the MARC train -- from Amtrak and from CSX itself.

Eleven people aboard the MARC train died, most from smoke inhalation, after that train plowed into an Amtrak locomotive with an exposed fuel tank on the side.

The recent lawsuits offer two alternate explanations. Either a signal malfunctioned and failed to warn MARC engineer Richard Orr to slow down, the suits say, or the signal worked properly and Orr failed to heed it.

Orr died in the crash. A signal specialist with the Federal Railroad Administration testified in June that the signal in question was operating properly before and after the crash.

The MARC train was traveling at 63 mph -- about double the safe speed, according to the lawsuits -- shortly before the collision.

The MARC engineer braked before the crash, but Amtrak engineer Noble did not. Noble has said he tried to drive his train through a crossover and onto another track in an attempt to avoid a more severe, head-on collision.

The suits also claim that CSX had wrongly removed a signal near Kensington Station that would have reminded Orr of the need to slow down. CSX also knew of signal failures along the rail line but failed to fix them, the lawsuits alleged.

Amtrak spokesman Clifford Black said, "Amtrak was the victim in the Silver Spring accident. We violated no regulations, we violated no rules."

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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