May 19, 2015
Days after the deadly Pennsylvania Amtrak crash while investigators are still trying to sort out what happened, the rail line is trying to pick up the PR pieces. The crisis PR has not been good – and that will continue to be an uphill battle. Already tiny factoids are popping up on social media comparing airline travel and rail travel.
The main question being asked by investigators is “why did the train speed up when it was supposed to be slowing down.” According to reports, when approaching a curve rated for no faster than 50 mph, the train, which had been traveling at 70 mph, sped up to more than 100 mph. At this point, investigators say they are unclear as to whether or not the train speed was increased manually by the engineer.
To this point, investigators have found no issues with the track or the mechanics of the train. But that is not the question the general consumer public is asking. All they can see is that a train was going too fast and killed at least eight people and sent 200 more to local hospitals. “Why” is a secondary concern. They want to feel safe, and they don’t, regardless of what caused the issue.
And, because they don’t feel safe, speculation rules. Despite the fact investigators have already released the information that the engineer was not using his cell phone and had not been drinking or using drugs, people are still – loudly – asking “what went wrong” with the driver.
Spokesmen have said that no “common sense rational person” would think it okay to travel at that rate of speed in that turn, but this is not comforting.
In point of fact, there’s no evidence to prove the engineer is a “crazy person.” But now that this idea is in the head of the public, it’s not just going to sit down and die. It may fester and spread.
Amtrak has a multifaceted PR nightmare. They are dealing with the facts of the case as they are revealed, AND they are dealing with countless speculations and outright rumors that are being generated by all the PR missteps. Every mishap leads to crisis PR – and those who handle it well have less damage than those who do not.