Investigation Continues for Amtrak Engineer, Critics Blame Congress
On May 12, Amtrak Train 188 derailed and crashed near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eight passengers were killed in the crash, and dozens more were injured. Several passengers have already brought lawsuits against Amtrak for negligence in the safety and operation of the train, Meanwhile, a federal investigation has been launched into the engineer on that day, Brandon Bostian, to determine if he was at fault in any way. (TIME, “Amtrak Train That Derailed Sped Up Before Crash,” 05.14.15) The exact cause of the crash is as of yet undetermined, and a federal investigation continues to look into possible causes. Data collected from technology onboard the train established that the train was traveling at 106 miles per hour at the moment that it derailed, when about a minute earlier it was traveling at only 70 miles per hour. The curve at which the train derailed, however, had a maximum speed limit of 50 miles per hour. (The Huffington Post, “Amtrak Engineer Investigated After Derailment,” 05.21.15) Investigators are currently trying to establish exactly why the train’s speed increased to a such a dangerous level so rapidly. There was reportedly a crack on the train’s windshield that investigators had originally suspected to have been from a bullet, but it was later confirmed to have been from a minor object striking the windshield. Other potential factors under investigation as causes for the speeding and later derailment include lack of attention on the part of the engineer, potentially due to his cell phone use. Although investigators have discovered that Bostian used his cellphone on the day of the crash, but his lawyer contends that Bostian was not using it at the time of the crash. Bostian himself suffered a head injury during the crash and reports that he has no memories of the
moments leading up to the accident. Defense lawyer Frank DeSimone commented, “Absent a failure of the train, what will his explanation be, if any, as to why the train sped off going 106 mph in the curve?” (Huffington Post) Train engineers have been convicted of manslaughter in the United States for causing crashes, but investigators are still working to establish whether or not any negligence on Bostian’s part was responsible for the speed, and thus the derailment, of the the train. A lawyer for several of the victims, Robert Mongeluzzi, said, “We look forward to deposing the memory-impaired engineer as to what he remembers happening.”(CNN, “FBI finds no evidence of firearm damage to train,” 05.19.15) Some critics contend that a lack of federal funding is what is truly to blame for the train’s derailment. Amtrak is currently in the process of installing new safety technology called “positive train control” throughout its lines, which would have been able to slow the speeding train had it been installed as quickly as advocates demanded. The original deadline for Amtrak installing this safety technology was this year, but current estimates place actual completion of the safety technology as late as 2020. Critics believe that low funding for Amtrak over the past few years has, in addition to causing a number of other technical and operational issues, severely slowed the rate of safety updates. (The New York Times, “One Day After Wreck, Increased Funding for Amtrak Fails in a House Panel,” 05.13.15) As investigation continues into the underlying causes of the train’s derailment, victims are working to deal with the aftermath. Memorials have begun in the last weeks of May, and one victim has established a GoFundMe page to deal with his resultant medical bills. Meanwhile, the investigation will seek to establish precisely who is at fault for the train’s derailment as regular passengers and policymakers alike come to terms with the tragedy and its implications.
Girl Scouts Resist Backlash for Transgender Inclusion Policy
On Wednesday, May 13, the American Family Association (AFA) launched a petition challenging the Girl Scouts of the USA’s policy on transgender troops. The current policy states that while the inclusion of transgender girls in the Girl Scouts should be decided individually by the troops involved, the Girl Scouts as an organization welcome and intend to work with any child who identifies as a girl and lives as one in her community. According to their website, “If the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.” This policy applies regardless of biological sex. (The Huffington Post, “Girl Scouts Have Awesome Response To ‘Family’ Group That Wants to Ban Trans Scouts,” 05.21.15) Implementation of the policy varies throughout the country, but Girl Scout councils faced with this issue have overwhelmlingly opted in favor of inclusion so far. One large council of Girl Scout troops throughout Kentucky and Indiana recently addressed the policy by asserting that while they haven’t yet had the opportunity to include transgender girls in their troops, they agree with the national policy and intend to see their organization move in such a direction. “We don’t discriminate,” the council said. At the same time, a local conservative advocate from Family Foundation of Kentucky opined that Girl Scouts should stick to what he called “common sense” gender distinctions. He did not clarify that standard. (The Courier Journal, “Girl Scouts group to discuss transgender policy,” 05.21.15) Although this policy has been in place on the Girl Scouts’ website for years, the AFA has only recently launched backlash against it. The AFA, who the Southern Poverty Law Center
have categorized as an extremist group, contend in their petition that allowing transgender children in the Girl Scouts will risk the safety of cisgender Girl Scouts and will promote the acceptance of lifestyles with which they disagree. The petition criticizes the inclusion policy as an unfair attempt to force children to accept a lifestyle that many find immoral or unnatural, and even labels the decision as a slippery slope leading to such rules as mandated transgenderism. “This means girls in the organization will be forced to recognize and accept transgenderism as a normal lifestyle,” the petition states. “Boys in skirts, boys in make-up and boys in tents will become a part of the program.” The petition against the Girl Scouts’ new inclusion policy, demanding that it be rescinded, has garnered nearly 40,000 signatures online. Although it is not clear why the AFA has only recently objected to this years-old policy, many conservative and religiously-devout groups across the country have come out in support of the petition. The Girl Scouts have made no indication that they intend to change their existing policies on LGBTQ issues, however, and have only made minimal acknowledgement of the petition. In a blog post, Program Development and Officer at Girl Scouts USA Andrea Bastiani Archibald reiterated the policy and reaffirmed the Girl Scouts’ commitment to serving girls from all walks of life. (GirlScouts.org, “The Meaning of ‘Serving All Girls,’” 05.14.15) This type of inclusion for LBGTQ youth and leaders is expanding across organizations. On May 21st, the President of the Boy Scouts of America called for change in the organization’s policy that bans openly gay troop leaders. Despite backlash from conservative groups, the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts continue to redefine their policies to be more inclusive to troops and leaders of all orientations. (Newsweek, “Girl Scouts Faces Backlash Over Transgender Policy,” 05.21.15)
– Elizabeth Dean, Online Editor