Locked switch blamed in fatal Amtrak crash

Emergency responders are at the scene after an Amtrak passenger train collided with a freight train and derailed in Cayce, South Carolina, U.S., February 4, 2018.

(Reuters) – A locked switch is being blamed for the collision between an Amtrak passenger train and a freight train that killed two people and injured more than 100 others in South Carolina early on Sunday.

The head of the National Transportation Safety Board said a switch on the tracks, which the freight hauler CSX Corp. owns and operates, was padlocked in a position that steered the Amtrak train onto a siding near Columbia, S.C., where it crashed into a parked, unoccupied CSX train.

“Key to this investigation is learning why the switch was lined that way,” Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of the NTSB, told reporters at a news conference on Sunday. NTSB officials were not immediately available to elaborate.

Amtrak President and Chief Executive Richard Anderson told reporters Sunday that CSX was responsible for the wreck because of the locked switch. CSX officials were not available for comment.

Officials from both companies expressed condolences to the families of the two people killed, an Amtrak engineer and a conductor.

Two of the 116 people injured remained in critical condition overnight, officials said. Specifics were not available.

A team from the NTSB is expected to be on the scene for five to seven days. No probable cause will be issued at that time, the agency told media outlets.

 

(Reporting by Rich McKay, editing by Larry King)

U.S. investigators seek answers from train crew in Washington derailment

A damaged Amtrak passenger train car is lifted from the tracks at the site of the derailment of Amtrak train 501 in Dupont, Washington, U.S., December 19, 2017.

By Tom James

DUPONT, Wash. (Reuters) – U.S. safety inspectors probing the deadly wreck of a passenger train that careened off a bridge onto a highway in Washington state are eager to question the engineer and a conductor-in-training who were in the cab of the locomotive, officials said on Tuesday.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials hoped interviews with all crew members would shed light on why Train 501 on Amtrak’s Cascades line was going more than twice the speed limit around a curved stretch of track when it derailed on Monday.

The accident occurred during the train’s inaugural run on a new, slightly quicker route between Olympia and Tacoma, with 86 people aboard, 80 of them passengers, Amtrak said.

NTSB officials said they planned to interview all the crew members in the next two days, once they sufficiently recover from injuries suffered in the wreck, including the conductor-in-training who was with the engineer at the time.

Safety board member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr told reporters that NTSB investigators would seek to determine, among other factors routinely examined, whether the engineer was distracted while driving the ill-fated train.

“Distraction is one of our most-wanted-list priorities at the NTSB,” she said.

She also said investigators had determined that the train’s emergency brakes were automatically activated while the derailment was occurring, rather than engaged manually by the engineer.

In addition, she confirmed that a safety system known as positive train control (PTC), which automatically slows trains if they go too fast, was not installed on the rail line. She said Congress had extended a mandatory deadline for having the PTC system installed on all passenger railways to 2018.

None of the crew has been identified. All were hospitalized, Dinh-Zarr said.

Three people aboard the train were killed when all 12 carriages and one of the train’s two locomotives tumbled off the rails onto Interstate 5 near the town of DuPont, about 50 miles south of Seattle, officials said. Another 100 people were taken to hospitals, 10 with serious injuries.

Some motorists were among the injured, though nobody on the highway died.

Recorded data recovered from the rear locomotive showed the train was going 80 miles (129 km) per hour on a bend in the track where the speed limit was 30 mph (48 kph), NTSB officials said on Monday night. The board said it was investigating whether other circumstances besides speed were involved, such as track conditions, signals, mechanical issues and human factors.

Speaking at an afternoon news conference on Tuesday, Dinh-Zarr said that a conductor “who was getting experience and familiarizing himself with the territory” was present in the locomotive cab with the engineer. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson described that second Amtrak employee as a “conductor-in-training.”

Dinh-Zarr said it was not unusual for conductors who are learning a new train route to ride in the cab with the engineer. She said another conductor was posted in the passenger section of the train at the time.

The derailment placed Amtrak, the country’s main passenger rail service, under renewed scrutiny following a series of fatal incidents.

Rescue personnel and equipment are seen at the scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017.

FILE PHOTO: Rescue personnel and equipment are seen at the scene where an Amtrak passenger train derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5 in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola/File Photo

SEEKING TO REOPEN HIGHWAY

Meanwhile, workers lifted mangled train cars onto flatbed trucks from the wreckage site, using two towering cranes in wet, windy weather as they sought to reopen the southbound lanes of Interstate 5, a major West Coast highway stretching from the Canadian border to Mexico.

They expected to remove five of the cars and the locomotive by Tuesday afternoon and take them to a nearby U.S. military base for further examination, officials said.

The locomotive alone weighs more than 270,000 pounds (120 tonnes) and will require an extra-large truck to move, Dan Hall, the regional commander for the Washington State Patrol, said at a news conference.

The southbound stretch of Interstate 5 will remain closed for several days, the Washington State Department of Transportation said.

At least two of the three people who died in the derailment were transit enthusiasts who wanted to see the maiden run of a new route for the train line, said Abe Zumwalt, director of policy research for the Rail Passengers Association.

Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite were members of the association, the Washington, D.C.-based organization said in a statement identifying the two men as victims of the wreck. Willhoite worked for a local transportation agency, Pierce Transit, as a customer service support specialist.

“They were best friends and they took all kinds of trips together, and given that yesterday was an inaugural run on a service that both had advocated for tirelessly, it made sense that they were on board,” Zumwalt said in a phone interview.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles. Writing by Jonathan Allen and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

Amtrak train on new route derails in Washington state, killing several

An Amtrak passenger train derailment over interstate highway (I-5) is seen in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017.

(Reuters) – An Amtrak passenger train derailed on Monday during its inaugural run along a faster route through Washington state, sending part of the train crashing down onto a major highway and killing an unknown number of passengers, authorities said.

The derailment caused “multiple fatalities,” Ed Troyer, a spokesman for the local sheriff’s office, told reporters at the scene, though he did not offer a specific number. The train struck several cars on the highway, he added, causing injuries but no additional deaths.

Seventy-seven people were transported to hospitals in Pierce and Thurston counties, the Tacoma-based CHI Franciscan Health healthcare network said in a statement. Four of them were considered “level red” patients with the most severe injuries.

Approximately 78 passengers and five crew members were aboard the train, Amtrak said in a statement.

People escaped the derailed train by kicking out windows, passenger Chris Karnes told local news outlet KIRO 7.

“All of a sudden, we felt this rocking and creaking noise, and it felt like we were heading down a hill,” Karnes said. “The next thing we know, we’re being slammed into the front of our seats, windows are breaking, we stop, and there’s water gushing out of the train. People were screaming.”

First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train derailment on interstate highway (I-5) in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy

First responders are seen at the scene of an Amtrak passenger train derailment on interstate highway (I-5) in this Washington State Patrol image moved on social media in DuPont, Washington, U.S., December 18, 2017. Courtesy Brooke Bova/Washington State Patrol/Handout via REUTERS

The derailment occurred on the first day Amtrak trains began using a new inland route between the cities of Tacoma and Olympia, part of a project to reduce travel time, according to an October news release from the state’s transportation department.

The rerouting takes trains along Interstate 5, eliminating a major choke point for passenger trains in Tacoma and allowing trains to reach speeds of 79 miles per hour (127 km per hour), the department has said.

Monday’s train, which had been scheduled to depart Seattle at 6 a.m. (1400 GMT) for Portland, Oregon, was the first to run along the new route, which uses tracks owned by a local commuter line.

It was not immediately clear whether the derailment, which came during a busy travel time one week before the Christmas holiday, was connected to the rerouting.

The train derailed around 7:30 a.m. (1530 GMT) in DuPont. A photograph posted by a Washington State Police spokeswoman showed an upside-down train car partially crushed on the highway, with a second car dangling off the overpass.

Authorities warned drivers to avoid the area, and southbound lanes remained closed.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team of investigators to the site, the federal agency said on Twitter.

“Thank you to the first responders on the scene,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee wrote in a Twitter message. “We’re praying for everyone on board the train, and ask everyone to hold them in your thoughts.”

An Amtrak passenger train is seen derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5

An Amtrak passenger train is seen derailed on a bridge over interstate highway I-5. Courtesy WSDOT/via REUTERS

The mayor of one of the towns through which the rerouted trains travel warned earlier this month that the high-speed trains were dangerously close to cars and pedestrians.

“Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens,” Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson told transportation officials in early December, according to Seattle’s KOMO News.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Oregon derailment likely to reignite oil by rail safety concerns

Handout photo of smoke billowing from a derailed oil train near Mosier, Oregon

By Eric M. Johnson

(Reuters) – A Union Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames along Oregon’s scenic Columbia River gorge on Friday in the first major rail accident involving crude in a year.

While no injuries were reported, the train remained engulfed in flames six hours after the derailment, officials said. The accident has already renewed calls for stronger regulation to guard communities against crude-by-rail accidents.

Union Pacific Corp, owner of the line, said 11 rail cars from a 96-car train carrying crude oil derailed about 70 miles (110 km) east of Portland, near the tiny town of Mosier.

Oil spilled from one car, but multiple cars of Bakken crude caught fire, said Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Fuller. Firefighters were still fighting the flames several hours later.

The crude was bought by TrailStone Inc’s U.S. Oil & Refining Co and bound for its refinery in Tacoma, Washington, some 200 miles (322 km) northwest of the derailment, the company said.

Television footage showed smoke and flames along with overturned black tanker cars snaking across the tracks, which weave through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

“I looked outside and there was black and white smoke blowing across the sky, and I could hear the flames,” said Mosier resident Dan Hoffman, 32, whose house is about 100 meters (328 ft) from the derailment. “A sheriff’s official in an SUV told me to get the hell out.”

While rail shipments have dipped from more than 1 million barrels per day in 2014 as a result of the lengthy slump in oil prices, the first such crash in a year will likely reignite the debate over safety concerns surrounding transporting crude by rail.

“Seeing our beautiful Columbia River Gorge on fire today should be a wake-up call for federal and state agencies – underscoring the need to complete comprehensive environmental reviews of oil-by-rail in the Pacific Northwest,” said U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

Ecology officials from Washington state said there was no sign of oil in the Columbia River or Rock Creek.

SAFETY MEASURES DELAYED

Since 2008, there have been at least 10 major oil-train derailments across the United States and Canada, including a disaster that killed 47 people in a Quebec town in July 2013.

The incident comes eight months after lawmakers extended a deadline until the end of 2018 for rail operators to implement advanced safety technology, known as positive train control, or PTC, which safety experts say can avoid derailments and other major accidents.

The measures included phasing out older tank cars, adding electronic braking systems and imposing speed limits, all meant to reduce the frequency and severity of oil train crashes.

The tank cars involved in Friday’s crash were CPC-1232 models, which elected officials have raised concerns about in the past even though they are an upgrade from older models considered less safe. On Friday, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon repeated his call from last year for federal officials to look into whether the newer cars were safe enough.

“It’s clear with this crash – as it has been for years – that more must be done to protect our communities,” Wyden said.

Rail operators such as Union Pacific are required under federal law to disclose crude rail movements to state officials to help prepare for emergencies. The rule was put in place after a string of fiery derailments.

EVACUATIONS

Union Pacific hazardous materials workers responded to the scene along with contractors packing firefighting foam and a boom for oil spill containment.

In its latest disclosure with the state, Union Pacific said it moved light volumes of Bakken crude oil along its state network, which includes the Oregon line. In March, it transported six unit trains, which generally carry about 75,000 barrels each.

As emergency responders descended on the crash site, Interstate 84 was closed and residents were ordered to leave the area.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the Columbia Riverkeeper advocacy group, said the crash should raise concerns about Tesoro Corp’s proposed 360,000 barrels-per-day railport in Vancouver, Washington, which would be the country’s largest.

“We are very concerned about additional oil trains passing through our community because of their safety record, the risk of fires, of explosions, the risks of spills,” he said.

(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault, Jarrett Renshaw, Devika Krishna Kumar, and Catherine Ngai in New York, Erwin Seba in Houston, Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Eric M. Johnson in Calgary, Alberta; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Leslie Adler and Tom Hogue)

Philadelphia Train Crash: Train Sped Up Before Derailment

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)  say the Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia accelerated from 70 to over 100 miles per hour as it entered the curve where it jumped the tracks.

At 106 miles per hour, the train was over twice the 50 miles per hour speed limit for the curve.

The discovery was made after reviewing a video taken from a camera facing the front of the train according to the NTSB.

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt says he’s hopeful the engineer will be able to give clarity as to why the train accelerated into the curve.

“What I believe is a very good way to interview people is, honestly, to not ask them questions, to basically give them a figurative blank sheet of paper and ask them what they recall,” Sumwalt said Thursday. “Really, we want to know his account of what he recalls leading into this tragic accident.”

Robert Goggin, attorney for engineer Brandon Bostian, says that his client cannot remember anything about the crash.

“He remembers coming into the curve, he remembers attempting to reduce speed, but thereafter he was knocked out just like all the other passengers on the train,” Goggin said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program.  He said Bostian suffered a concussion and gash on his head.

“We will have to wait for his memory to come back or for other facts to be ascertained by the NTSB,” the lawyer said.

Eight people died in the accident after the remains of the eighth victim were found today by cadaver dogs.  All 243 people on board the train have now been accounted for by Philadelphia officials.

Train Crash Kills 7 In Philadelphia

Officials in Philadelphia are attempting to find the cause of a train crash Tuesday night that left 7 people dead and more than 200 injured.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said that seven cars of the Amtrak train bound for New York jumped the tracks and that over 200 people are in area hospitals.  Eight victims are in critical condition.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the train was going 100 miles per hour at the time it jumped the tracks at a curve, more than twice the speed limit for that portion of track.  Investigators are focusing on that excessive speed as the cause of the derailment.

That belief was backed by an Amtrak official who told a conference call that excessive speed was a focus of the investigation.

Mayor Nutter said the “black box” data recorder of the train has been recovered and is in the hands of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The President issued a statement sharing his shock about the accident.

“Michelle and I were shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the derailment,” Mr. Obama said in a written statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those we lost last night, and to the many passengers who today begin their long road to recovery.”

Witnesses say the crash was very violent with people being thrown around the rail cars.  Andrew Brenner told the WSJ that seats were ripped from the floor.

“I got thrown like a penny,” said Mr. Brenner, who said he weighs 250 pounds. “That is how violent this was.”