When one thinks about miscommunication, what comes to mind? The occurrence is likely something minor or something that may have even caused a heated argument between significant others. It is safe to say that when we think about miscommunication, we do not think of a fatal event where that breakdown in communication was the reason for loss of life. But for an April 2016 Amtrak train crash near Chester, Pennsylvania, that was exactly what happened.
Lesson commentary (2019) tells us that communication is a coding and decoding system in its very basic structure. The process of communication starts with a sender who encodes a message to then be decoded by the receiver. Then the receiver sends feedback, and the process begins again. Errors in communication occur at the encoding and decoding stages of the process, and these errors are noise or bias (Pennsylvania, 2019). In the case of the Amtrak train crash, investigators do not yet know exactly what happened, so we do not know whether the error in communication occurred at the encoding or decoding stage.
No matter where the miscommunication happened, the results were deadly. The Amtrak train going 88 miles per hour collided into a backhoe performing maintenance after the engineer had already put on the emergency brakes, immediately killing the backhoe operator and his supervisor. The investigation, being completed by the National Transportation Safety Board, preliminarily showed that not only did the train operator test positive for marijuana on the day of the crash, an interview with a day shift foreman showed that “there had been confusion in the handoff from a night foreman about whether the track had been cleared for traffic,” (Chokshi, 2017, January 27).
Because of this miscommunication and confusion, two people lost their lives that morning and over 40 others were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment. While the occurrences of miscommunication in our lives are not usually this severe, it is important to remember that errors in communication can have dangerous consequences, even deadly ones.
Chokshi, N. (2017, January 27). Inquiry into fatal Amtrak crash reveals error in communication. Retrieved September 21, 2019, from
Pennsylvania State University. (2019). Defining communication. Retrieved September 21, 2019, from