Burch Family Honors Amtrak Employee for Advancing the Safety of Train Passengers

Press Release #13-08

April 24, 2013

Contact: Sean Jeans-Gail, 202-408-8362


Burch Family Honors Amtrak Employee for Advancing the Safety of Train Passengers

New Measurement Technique Will Lead to Fewer Derailments


Washington, D.C.—The Burch Family, in partnership with the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), conferred the 19th Annual Dr. Gary Burch Memorial Award to Amtrak’s Michael Tomas of Delaware yesterday, for his extraordinary contributions towards reducing derailment risks and improving the overall safety of rail operations.


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Volpe Nationa lTransportation Systems Center (Volpe) have been working with a number of railroads to investigate recent low-speed derailments of certain passenger equipment designs having “stiff” suspension systems.  Worryingly, these vehicles were negotiating track that—while possessing a high-degree-of-curvature and track warp—were still within the limits set forth in FRA’s track safety standards.

Mr. Tomas responded by designing a wayside measurement station to monitor the curving performance of rail vehicles, employing an ingenious system to simultaneously measure forces on all eight wheels of a vehicle.  He also configured the system to read ID-tags on passing vehicles in order to correlate the data to the vehicles, allowing the monitoring of performance over time and prioritization of suspected “bad actor” vehicles.

By meticulously analyzing months of data, Mr. Tomas was able to identify several vehicles exhibiting poor performance that—upon further inspection—possessed the same worn equipment found on the previously derailed cars. The innovative techniques Mr. Tomas developed to analyze trends in data have provided insight into the fundamental understanding of safe performance of rail equipment.

“I appreciate am very proud of the work that you’ve done and the recognition that you’ve gotten today,” said Representative John Carney of Delaware at NARP’s Capitol Hill Reception yesterday evening.


About the Dr. Gary Burch Memorial Safety Award

The Dr. Gary Burch Memorial Safety Award is an annual award from the Burch Family to the railroad worker who has done the most to improve the safety of railroad passengers.  In addition to a plaque presented at the NARP Congressional Reception, the award includes a $1,000 prize.

Dr. Burch was one of eight passengers who died July 31, 1991, at Lugoff, S.C., while traveling on Amtrak's Silver Star. It derailed at a switch that the National Transportation Safety Board later said was "poorly maintained." Dr. Burch's wife, Bette, was traveling with him and was injured. Later, she and her children (Michael Burch and Kathryn Burch Pettyjohn), after consulting with NARP, decided to establish the award, with the goal of improving passenger rail safety.

About the National Association of Railroad Passengers

NARP is the only national organization speaking for the users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by over 22,000 individual members.