2 dead, dozens hurt in Amtrak train derailment near Philadelphia
By From staff and wire reports
Apr 03, 2016 | 9:46 PM
Train service along the East Coast was expected to return mostly to normal Monday after the crash and derailment near Philadelphia Sunday that killed two Amtrak workers and injured more than 30 passengers.
Amtrak Train 89 was heading from New York to Savannah, Ga., with more than 300 passengers at about 8 a.m. when it hit a backhoe on the track in Chester, Pa., about 15 miles outside of Philadelphia, authorities said.
The impact derailed the lead engine. Chester Fire Commissioner Travis Thomas said two people were killed. A National Transportation Safety Board official confirmed that one was the operator of the backhoe.
Medical examiners in Delaware County, Pa., planned to perform autopsies Monday. They said no information would be released until after the autopsies.
Amtrak said it would operate regularly scheduled trains on Monday, but Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other services would be subject to some delays between Philadelphia and Wilmington.
The crash came nearly a year after eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured in a derailment in Philadelphia. Officials are investigating the cause of that crash, but authorities have said the train had been traveling twice the speed limit.
An Amtrak train to Chicago derailed in Kansas in March, injuring 32 passengers.
NTSB investigator Ryan Frigo said the event data recorder and both forward-facing and inward-facing video from the locomotive have been recovered.
Frigo said the locomotive engineer was among the more than 30 injured people who were taken to hospitals. Officials said none of the injuries was life-threatening.
Ari Ne'eman, a disability rights activist from Silver Spring, said he was in the second car at the time of the crash. The 28-year-old was heading to Washington after speaking at an event in New York.
"The car started shaking wildly, there was a smell of smoke, it looked like there was a small fire and then the window across from us blew out," Ne'eman said.
Some of the passengers started to get off after the train stopped, but the conductor quickly stopped them. Officials started evacuating people to the rear of the train and then off and to a local church.
"It was a very frightening experience. I'm frankly very glad that I was not on the first car," where there were injuries, he said. "The moment that the car stopped, I said Shema, a Jewish prayer. I was just so thankful that the train had come to a stop and we were OK."
Businessman Steve Forbes told CSPAN's "Book TV" by phone that he was in the next-to-last car when the train "made sudden jerks" as if it was about to make an abrupt stop.
Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, said the train then made another abrupt stop and "everyone's coffee was flying through the air."
He said there was smoke and the smell of smoldering brakes as the train came to a stop.
"The most disconcerting thing [was] not knowing what had happened," he said. Since the public address system was knocked out, he and other passengers were left to speculate for 20 or 25 minutes before a crew member came back to tell them what had happened, he said.
"As time passed and they took care of the injuries in the first two cars, they came back and eventually we were let off the train," and hiked through woods to a local church, he said. "They admonished us at the beginning, 'Don't leave the train because there are two live tracks on either side, so don't leave the train until we say it's safe to do so."'
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he was told by Amtrak board Chairman Anthony Coscia that the workers killed were the backhoe operator and a supervisor, both Amtrak employees. He said debris from the crash flew into the first two cars, causing the injuries to passengers.
Schumer said it was unclear whether the equipment was being use for regular maintenance, which usually is scheduled on Sunday mornings, when there are fewer trains on the tracks, or whether it was clearing debris from high winds in the area overnight.
But he said Amtrak has "a 20-step protocol" for operating such equipment on the track, and no trains are supposed to go on a track when equipment is present.
"Clearly this seems very likely to be human error," Schumer said. He called for Amtrak to review its processes. "There is virtually no excuse for a backhoe to be on an active track."
A message left with Amtrak officials was not returned.
Frigo said the he could not say why the equipment was on a track the train was using, but "scheduling" and "the track structure and the work that was performed at the time of the accident" would be part of the investigation.
He said the event data recorder was sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington, and will answer such questions as how fast the train was going at the time of the crash.
Service on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Philadelphia was suspended after the crash, with limited service restored Sunday afternoon.
Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station became crowded Sunday afternoon with stranded passengers, all keeping an eye on the big monitors showing delays for trains in all directions.
Jalen Brown, 17, had booked a Sunday morning ticket to take Train 89 from Baltimore to Savannah after visiting her parents in Randallstown on her college spring break.
But with the train derailed more than 80 miles away, the 8:42 a.m. boarding time came and went. The hours passed, and Brown was stuck in Baltimore.
She said her father would probably have to come pick her up from the station, and she would likely miss class Monday.
Zach Kapchan, 24, of New York, tapped his smartphone, on which the Amtrak app listed his train's delay as only 4 minutes. Unlikely, he noted as he glanced at the monitors, which gave no indication of any movement: "Delayed," "Delayed," "Delayed."
"I just want to know what's happening," Kapchan said.
David Newcomb, 29, of Baltimore, said he had paid more than normal for his ticket to West Virginia because he had booked it the day before.
It didn't matter. The train was nowhere to be seen.
Newcomb, a chef at Ruby Tuesday's, said he needed to be in court for a hearing Monday, so canceling the trip was not an option.
"I'll have to just wait it out," he said.
Ted McGhee, 66, planned to head home to Philadelphia on an afternoon train after visiting relatives in Owings Mills and taking his granddaughter to Light City Baltimore for her 12th birthday.
"Nothing to do but hurry up and wait," he said. "If we wait long enough, the weather'll be up to 70, 80 degrees. You know how that goes in Baltimore."
Monica Brown, an elementary school teacher's assistant who lives near Raleigh, N.C., had hoped her 9:45 a.m. train would get her home by Sunday afternoon.
"It'll be what it'll be," she said. "I'm thankful we're safe, and I'm sorry for those other people."
The president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers said the group was awaiting further information on the incident.
"We at NARP were saddened to learn this morning of the derailment just south of Philadelphia that has claimed at least two lives and injured many more," President and CEO Jim Mathews said in a statement. "As a former firefighter/medic, I can attest to how chaotic these kinds of incidents can be and to how any initial information that emerges is often incorrect or incomplete.
"While it is too early to know how this incident occurred, I'm sure investigators will do a thorough job to help all of us understand how this tragedy occurred and how future incidents might be prevented."