Tue, Feb 06, 2018 - Page 7 News List

US train crash kills two, over 100 hurt

DEADLY COLLISION:Amtrak’s ‘Silver Star’ was headed from New York City to Miami on Sunday when it hit an empty freight train, killing the engineer and conductor

AP, CAYCE, South Carolina

An aerial view of the site of an early-morning crash between an Amtrak train, bottom right, and a CSX freight train, top left, in Cayce, South Carolina, on Sunday.

Photo: AP

An Amtrak passenger train slammed into a parked freight train in the early-morning darkness on Sunday after a thrown switch sent it hurtling down a side track, authorities said. Two Amtrak crew members were killed, and more than 100 people were injured.

It was the third deadly wreck involving Amtrak in less than two months.

The Silver Star, en route from New York City to Miami with nearly 150 people aboard, was doing 95kph when it struck the empty CSX train about 2:45am, South Carolina Goernor Henry McMaster said.

The crash happened near a switchyard about 16km south of Columbia where railcars hauling automobiles are loaded and unloaded.

Many of the passengers were asleep when the crash jolted them awake and forced them into the cold.

“I thought that I was dead,” said Eric Larkin, of Pamlico County, North Carolina, who was dazed and limping after banging his knee.

Larkin said he was on his way to Florida when he was awoken by the crash. The train was shaking and jumping, and his seat broke loose, slamming him into the row in front of him, he said.

He heard screams and crying all around him as he tried to get out. Other passengers were bleeding.

US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators found a track switch had been set in a position that forced the Amtrak train off the main track and onto the siding.

He said the question for investigators is why that happened.

Amtrak president Richard Anderson pointed the finger at CSX, saying the signal system along that stretch is run by the freight railroad, but was down at the time of the wreck, forcing CSX dispatchers to route trains manually.

The NTSB said it was working to confirm that.

CSX issued a statement expressing condolences, but said nothing about the cause of the accident.

Sumwalt said that positive train control — a GPS-based safety system that can automatically slow or stop trains — could have prevented the accident.

“That’s what it’s designed to do,” he said, referring to technology that regulators have been pressing for for decades with mixed success.

The conductor and engineer aboard the Amtrak locomotive were killed, while McMaster said that 116 people were taken to four hospitals.

At least three patients were hospitalized in critical or serious condition, with nearly all the rest treated for minor injuries such as cuts, bruises and whiplash, local authorities said.

Investigators recovered a camera from the front of the Amtrak train and were looking for the data recorders from the two trains.

The switch that triggered the crash was found padlocked in position, which conductors are supposed to do when they move a train from one line to another, Sumwalt said.

Amtrak officials gathered up luggage and other belongings and within hours put passengers aboard buses to their destinations.

Before being sent on their way, those who were not hurt were taken to a shelter set up at a middle school, and local businesses provided coffee and breakfast.

Positive train control is in place in the northeast US, but railroads that operate tracks used by Amtrak elsewhere in the US have won repeated extensions from the government. The deadline for installing such equipment is now the end of this year.

After the latest crash, US Senator Richard Blumenthal said the nation’s railroads must be made safer, declaring: “Business as usual must end.”

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