Amtrak Crash: Train Appears To Have Hit Curve Going Over 100 MPH – Wall Street Journal
An Amtrak train involved in a fatal crash here appears to have been traveling at more than 100 miles an hour as it entered a sharp curve where it derailed Tuesday night, killing at least seven people, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.
The speed limit in that section of track drops to 50 miles an hour, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Investigators are focusing on the possibility that excessive speed was a factor in the derailment, one of these people said. The locomotive and all seven passenger cars of the train went off the tracks at a tight curve at Frankford Junction, north of Philadelphia city center. Multiple cars overturned, severely injuring some passengers and pinning others. At least seven people were killed, and more than 200 were injured, including eight who were in critical condition.
Amtrak officials notified some employees on a Wednesday conference call that excessive speed was believed to have contributed to the crash, said one of these people, who was briefed on the contents of the call.
A spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is probing the accident, said speed was among the many factors it would be investigating in the crash.
The northbound train was carrying 238 passengers and five crew members when it derailed about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on its way to New York.
Investigators on Wednesday searched through the wreckage, as officials worked to account for all passengers who were on the northbound train on its way to New York.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Wednesday officials have yet to match a manifest from Amtrak against lists of people admitted to hospitals. More than 200 people went to area hospitals, according to Samantha Phillips, director of Emergency Management for the city. Many have since been released.
Among the victims were Associated Press employee Jim Gaines, a 48-year-old father of two from Plainsboro, N.J., and a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. New York state Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder identified the midshipman as Justin Zemser from Queens, N.Y. Mr. Zemser was on leave from the academy in Annapolis, Md., and heading home when the accident occurred.
Reported missing was Rachel Jacobs, 39 years old, a CEO for Philadelphia technology company ApprenNet who lives in New York with her husband and toddler son, according to a co-worker.
Mr. Nutter said a “black box” data recorder aboard the train had been recovered and is being analyzed at an Amtrak facility in Delaware. He said it was too soon to speculate on the cause of the accident.
“We are heartbroken at what has happened here,” Mr. Nutter said at a news conference. “We have not experienced anything like this in modern times.”
Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead agency investigating the accident, said investigators would study a variety of factors, including the condition of the track, train signals, the mechanical condition of the train and human performance.
Mr. Nutter said the train’s engineer, who wasn’t identified, was treated after the accident and gave a statement to Philadelphia police.
A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama called Mr. Nutter and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to express his condolences and praise the work of first responders. “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.”
The train originated in Washington and was due in New York about 10:30 p.m. But shortly after leaving Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, the train began to jerk and rock, passengers said. They described a frightening scene that arrived with little warning as the train left the rails.
Andrew Brenner, 29, a public-relations expert who lives in Washington, D.C., said he was relaxing and texting in the last car with his shoes off. He said he noticed that the train seemed to be taking a curve rather fast, but it didn’t cause much alarm. Then, the train jolted and swayed. Within moments, Mr. Brenner said he and other passengers were tossed around cars as seats were ripped from the train floor.
“I got thrown like a penny,” said Mr. Brenner, who said he weighs 250 pounds. “That is how violent this was.”
After the crash, Mr. Brenner said he was taken along with other passengers by bus to a hospital, where X-rays showed damage to his vertebrae.
Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Beth Davidz, 35, said she remembered only a hard turn and a jerk. “Then it was just blackness. I was bouncing up and down in blackness,” she said.
Although she tried not to look at the wreckage as she left the train, she noticed the first and second cars looked badly damaged. “I didn’t see anyone getting out,” said Ms. Davidz, a project director with a Philadelphia-based startup.
More than 120 firefighters and 200 police responded to the chaotic scene that included several badly mangled railcars, officials said.
One car was flipped nearly onto its roof, another was close to toppled, and three were on their sides, the Federal Railroad Administration said. The engine and two cars stayed upright.
Rescue workers used hydraulic tools to help some trapped passengers escape from the wreckage, Mr. Nutter said.
Train service was canceled Wednesday between Philadelphia and New York, but New Jersey Transit plans to honor Amtrak tickets between New York and Trenton, N.J., Amtrak said. Mayor Nutter said Tuesday night he expected service between Philadelphia and New York could be shut down for the rest of the week.
Modified Amtrak service is planned between Washington and Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and New York and Boston.
Temple University Hospital, which has a trauma center, said it had received 54 patients from the crash. Hospital spokesman Jeremy Walter said, Wednesday morning that one passenger died overnight and 25 remained at the hospital, including eight in critical condition. The injuries included broken bones and other limb injuries, he said.
Many patients taken to hospitals with lacerations and bruises had been released by Wednesday morning. Of 26 people treated at Aria Health’s Frankford hospital near the crash site, 21 people were released, a spokeswoman for Aria Health said Wednesday.
Two patients had been transferred to the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and three went to Aria Health’s Torresdale hospital. At Torresdale, 24 of 30 people admitted directly to the hospital had been released, the spokeswoman said, while a total of nine people remained hospitalized Wednesday morning.
Many of the patients at the Frankford campus walked in on their own and had lacerations, she said. She didn’t have details about the Torresdale patients.
Hahnemann University Hospital received two patients, and Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia said it received 10 patients.
The FRA said it was sending at least eight investigators to the scene, including acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg. The NTSB said it had a team on site Wednesday morning, and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox said Transportation Department officials were heading to the scene.
The crash occurred in the Port Richmond section of the city, a mix of residential and industrial buildings along the Delaware River. Mr. Nutter said the accident resulted in a four-alarm response from area fire stations. He described the accident as a Level 3 mass-casualty incident based on the number of people involved.
The last crash of this magnitude along the heavily-traveled Northeast Corridor occurred in 1987 near Baltimore. Sixteen people were killed when a Conrail train ignored signals and collided with an Amtrak train. The accident sparked several safety reforms.