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January 21, 2010

Amtrak replies on victim identification

Amtrak's chief spokesman, Steve Kulm, sent this clarification of Amtrak's policy on the identification of victims of train-pedestrian collisions on its tracks. The statement represents a change from the railroad's previous flat assertion that it was Amtrak policy not to release such identifications.

When individuals trespassing on railroad tracks are struck and fatally injured by Amtrak trains, we are saddened by the unnecessary loss of life and understand all too well the grief that surviving friends and families experience.  The emotional impact of a trespass incident can extend also to our Amtrak train crew members and to passengers aboard the train.

When it comes to investigating trespass accidents of this nature, it is generally the state and local law enforcement agencies that assume the responsibility as the lead investigating agency. 

Amtrak Police perform certain functions since the fatal event involves an Amtrak train, but our usual role is in support of the investigation being led by state or local authorities.  There are several reasons for this approach with the main ones being that state law usually confers jurisdiction to the state or local agency to conduct the investigation, assigns state medical examiners or coroners the authority to determine cause of death and, as a practical matter in most circumstances, the state and local police arrive on the scene before Amtrak Police.

As a result of these experiences, Amtrak Police defers and provides support to the state and local law enforcement investigation, and thus, we do not publicly release information regarding the individual. In addition, Amtrak is often not made aware of when local authorities notify next of kin.  Further, state and local authorities publicly release this information when they so choose and they do so without guidance from or interaction with Amtrak Police.

Regarding the recent Aberdeen trespass incident, Amtrak Police has contacted the Aberdeen Police Department and confirmed that they are the lead investigating agency.  If you have not already made contact with them, please call their Public Information Officer. . . .

We appreciate the concern and attention you are bringing to the trespass issue.

Steve Kulm
Director, Media Relations

Mr. Kulm's note is welcome, as is the release of the information Thursday by the Aberdeen Police. Let's hope this misunderstanding leads  to a clarification of protocols so that local police agencies  aren't left under the impression they have been superseded by Amtrak Police in their normal release of information. Amtrak also needs to make sure that when it refers inquiries to another agency that it does so in a timely and accurate manner.

Posted by Michael Dresser at 4:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Amtrak/intercity railroads


It is good to hear that amtrak recognizes that these types of incidents affect the crew. Imagine having to be the engineer who views the person step in front of the train. What about the conductor who has to walk back and locate the remains.
These incidents are brutal to everyone

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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