Derailed Train Was Speeding, Officials Say
By Joseph A. Gambardello and Anthony R. Wood, The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
PHILADELPHIA — Seven deaths were confirmed Wednesday and the toll was almost certain to go higher in the derailment of an Amtrak train that officials said was traveling at double the speed limit as it approached a curve at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia.
The search for more bodies was continuing, Mayor Michael Nutter said at a midafternoon briefing at the site. More than 200 people were injured, and at least eight people remained in critical condition.
The National Transportation Safety Board said that the train was moving at 100 mph when it jumped the tracks at a sharp curve where several lines merge, toppling all seven cars.
Nutter said President Barack Obama had contacted him to pledge the federal government’s “full support.” In a statement, Obama commended the first responders and medical personnel as well as uninjured passengers who assisted the injured.
“Along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is a way of life for many,” he said. “From Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia to New York City and Boston, this is a tragedy that touches us all.”
The incident marked the deadliest crash on the Northeast Corridor since 16 people were killed when an Amtrak train collided with a pair of Conrail engines near Baltimore in 1987.
NTSB Board member Robert Sumwalt said the agency would hold a briefing later Wednesday.
Investigators are going to focus on the speed of the train, the condition of the track, possible mechanical problems or defects with the train and actions of the crew, among other things, Sumwalt said.
The curve at Frankford Junction is not yet equipped with a system called Positive Train Control that would automatically slow a speeding train.
Nutter said the train’s event recorders had been recovered and were being examined at an Amtrak facility in Delaware.
Sumwalt said the train also was equipped with a forward looking video camera and that would be part of the investigation.
“We have not experienced anything like this in modern times,” Nutter said.
The train’s engineer and conductor survived the crash.
The engineer, who has not been identified, declined to give a statement to police investigators and left the East Detectives Division with an attorney, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Wednesday.
The conductor, also unidentified, was at Einstein Hospital with a skull fracture, Ramsey said.
Thousands of commuters in the meantime scrambled to find alternate ways to work as the derailment has 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 workweek.
Amtrak Train 188, was bound to New York from Washington with 238 passengers and five crew members aboard when the incident occurred jumped the tracks just before 9:30 p.m. on a curve in the Northeast Corridor’s Frankford Junction.
The area is normally under a speed restriction, requiring trains to slow down as they approach.
In the moments after the derailment, scores of emergency personnel swarmed over the 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.
There is no official word yet on the identities of passengers who are unaccounted for, but a family friend said Rachel Jacobs, the CEO of an online learning start-up based in Philadelphia, was on the train and has been reported missing.
The U.S. Naval Academy said a midshipman on leave was among the dead. His family identified him as Justin Zemser, a 20-year-old from Rockaway Beach in Queens, who was in his second year at the Academy. In a statement, his parents said: “This tragedy has shocked us in the worst way and we wish to spend this time grieving with our close family and friends.”
The Associated Press said one of the victims was an AP employee. It said Jim Gaines, 48, a father of two, had attended meetings in Washington and was returning home to Plainsboro, N.J., when the train derailed.
Herbert Cushing, Temple’s chief medical officer, said the hospital had received a total of 54 patients, 25 of whom remained hospitalized Wednesday.