At 2:45 am Sunday February 4, 2018 an Amtrak passenger train hit an empty CSX car hauler. The CSX freight train was parked in a siding awaiting clearance from CSX dispatch to resume northbound on the main track owned and controlled by CSX.The Amtrak 91 southbound was traveling at 59 miles per hour at the approach to the siding where the CSX freight train, parked. The Amtrak passenger train should have by-passed the siding and continued southbound however; it was diverted to the siding due to the switch being “locked” according to Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Sumwalt explained the siding switch is physically locked into place with a padlock; standard proceedure when diverting a train to a siding. The question remains, why was the siding locked when a scheduled Amtrak passenger train would be traveling southbound at that spot and the CSX freighter was already in position to wait until it had clearance?
South Caroligna Governor Henry McMaster said there were 139 passengers and 9 crew members abord Amtrak 91 at the time of the crash, Sunday. The numbers were confirmed by Sumwalt in a press conference later that day. Sumwalt also said there were 2 fatalities and 116 injured. The engineer, 54-year-old Michael Kempf and 32-year-old conductor Michael Sella were killed.
As of last night, neither event recorder had been recovered from the Amtrak 91 train or the CSX freight hauler. Camera evidence had been recovered and was immediatly sent to NTSB via the same flight which brought Chairman Sumwalt and his team to South Caroligna.
Concerns about safety standards on the US rail network have been raised after a number of fatal train crashes in recent years:
- February 2018: Crozet, Virginia. A lorry driver died after his vehicle hit a chartered Amtrak train carrying Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan
- December 2017: Seattle, Washington. Three people killed when a passenger train plunged off a bridge after hitting a 30mph (50km/h) curve at 80mph
- March 2017 – Biloxi, Mississippi. Four people died when the bus they were travelling in got stuck on train tracks and was hit by a freight train
- May 2015 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A passenger train derailed, killing eight people
- January 2015 – Austin, Texas. A prison bus carrying 12 inmates and three officers skidded off a bridge and hit a freight train, killing 10 people on the bus
- December 2013 – The Bronx, New York City. Four people died when the driver of a passenger train fell asleep and the train took a 30mph curve at 82mph, then derailed – BBC/canada
Note: The list quoted above is from the BBC; the links to stories were inserted by thr author.