By Joseph A. Gambardello, The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
PHILADELPHIA — The death toll in the derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia rose to seven Wednesday as federal investigators readied to go to the area in a bid to determine what caused the wreck that also injured dozens of people.
A source familiar with operations at the scene said rescue crews feared they might find more casualties under a train car that is on its side and is to be lifted by a crane.
A National Transportation Safety Board “Go Team” is scheduled to arrive at the crash scene later Wednesday morning. The Federal Railroad Administration said it also was sending at least eight investigators to the scene of what is believed to be the deadliest crash on the Northeast Corridor since 16 were killed when an Amtrak train collided with a freight train near Baltimore in 1987.
The investigation, based on past experience, is likely to take months, though officials are expected to provide some preliminary findings in the coming days.
Law enforcement sources said the train engineer and conductor survived the crash and were being interviewed. Cranes and other heavy equipment needed to handle the wreckage started arriving overnight.
Thousands of commuters in the meantime scrambled to find alternate ways to work as the derailment halted Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia as well as service on SEPTA’s Trenton line. SEPTA said the Trenton line could remain out of operation for the remainder of the work week.
Amtrak Train 188, bound to New York from Washington with 238 passengers and five crew members aboard, jumped the tracks just before 9:30 p.m. on a curve in a section of the Northeast Corridor known as Frankford Junction.
The area is normally under a speed restriction, requiring trains to slow down as they approach. Determining the speed of Train 188 at the time of the accident will be part of the investigation.
In the moments after the derailment, scores of emergency personnel swarmed over more than a half-dozen toppled train cars, trying to reach the dazed, the injured, the dying.
Some people were reported trapped in the train, and crews cut into the cars to free the injured.
Ladder 10 was the first to respond to the scene. When firefighters arrived, they found two people under the train, a fire official said.
Officials at the scene initially reported that five people had died; two others died later Wednesday at Temple University Hospital.
Herbert Cushing, Temple’s chief medical officer, said the hospital had received a total of 54 patients, eight of whom were in critical condition.
“The patients who were awake and could talk to me were folks that were in the last two cars,” Cushing said. He said patients described the crash as chaotic. “The folks I talked to were injured because people fell on them or things fell on them.”
He said the patients included visitors from Spain, India and Albania who “just happened to be here on that train.”
Earlier, a group of injured passengers, some with bruises on their faces, others on crutches or with their arms in slings, left the hospital but declined to comment.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters at the scene that the first fire call came in at 9:28 p.m. and quickly grew to four alarms. In all, he said, 33 pieces of equipment were sent in to help, along with 122 Fire Department personnel and Emergency Medical Services workers. Also responding were about 200 police officers, and officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Pennsylvania State Police, SEPTA, and Amtrak.
Because the train had already passed Philadelphia en route to New York, he said, it was likely that most passengers were either from Washington, New Jersey or New York.
“It is a devastating scene down there,” Nutter said. “The engine completely separated from the rest of the train. . . . It is incredible.”
Initial reports indicated the train derailed as it entered the curve at Frankford Junction. An engine and all seven cars derailed, a U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman said early Wednesday.
(Contributing to this story were Inquirer staff writers Laura McCrystal, Caitlin McCabe, Ben Finley, Alison Steele and Jonathan Lai.)
(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This post has been updated.