Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), reported some preliminary findings Monday afternoon of his agency’s investigation into the Amtrak-CSX train collision that occurred Feb. 4 near Cayce, S.C.
The train had 139 passengers and eight crewmembers on board. The engineer and conductor in the cab of the locomotive were killed and six passengers remain hospitalized, two in critical condition. SMART TD conductor Michael Cella of Local 30 in Florida was one of two Amtrak crewmembers killed in the accident.
Based upon the event data recorders located within the Amtrak locomotive, Sumwalt said, Amtrak Train 91 was not speeding at the time of the collision.
He said Amtrak’s data recorder had the following information:
The train horn was sounded for three seconds at the seven second mark before the collision.
The train was traveling at a maximum speed of 57 mph in a 59-mph zone.
The engineer moved the throttle to idle and had applied the emergency brakes before the collision.
At the time of the collision, the train had reduced its speed to 50 mph.
Sumwalt stated that the reason for the 59-mph speed limit in the area was attributable to track signals being inoperable due to CSX performing upgrades to their track signal system to switch over to positive train control (PTC). He said a track warrant system was in place, and Amtrak had been given clearance to operate in the area.
As previously reported by Sumwalt, a switch had been thrown to allow a CSX train to back into a side track. The switch had never been released back to its original position, and the Amtrak train entered the track where the CSX freight train was parked instead of continuing on the main track.
Sumwalt said that the CSX dispatcher had been notified that the siding operation had been completed and so gave Amtrak clearance to proceed through.
Typically, when the dispatcher is given notification that such a proceeding has been completed, it means that the switch has been moved back into position. The NTSB is investigating as to why the switch had been locked into position for the siding.
Sumwalt reported that interviews with CSX’s engineer, conductor, trainmaster and dispatcher had been conducted Monday along with some of Amtrak’s crew.
Additional interviews are planned for Tuesday. No information about the content of the interviews was released.
The information provided in Monday’s press conference is considered preliminary, and no conclusions should or can be drawn until the NTSB’s investigation is complete and official causes are released by the agency.
A current SMART Transportation Division conductor and a former member were killed when Amtrak Train 91 traveling from New York to Miami collided early Feb. 4 with a stationary CSX freight train east of Columbia, S.C.
Brother Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Fla., was a conductor out of Local 30 in Jacksonville, Fla. He, along with the train’s engineer, Michael Kempf, a former SMART TD member out of Georgia, died in the accident, which injured more than 100 passengers, in Cayce, S.C.
Cella hired on with Amtrak as an assistant conductor in July 2008 and became a full member of SMART TD in September of that year.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the collision that happened about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 4 when the Amtrak locomotive hit the locomotive of the parked CSX train head-on.
Train 91 was carrying eight crew members and 139 passengers, Amtrak said on a posting on its website.
“We are cooperating fully with the NTSB, which is leading the investigation, as well as working with FRA and CSX. CSX owns and controls the Columbia Subdivision where the accident occurred,” Amtrak said in a statement on Twitter. “CSX maintains all of the tracks and signal systems. CSX controls the dispatching of all trains, including directing the signal systems which control the access to sidings and yards.”
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt also said during a news conference that CSX owns and operates the tracks that the Amtrak train was traveling. A switch that was “lined and locked” in the position to divert traffic onto the track where the CSX train was parked is being considered a cause of the accident.
“Key to this investigation is learning why the switch was lined that way,” Sumwalt said.
“We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock,” he said when asked by a reporter if there was any physical indication that the switch was faulty.
A statement issued by CSX offered condolences to the families of Cella and Kempf and said that the carrier was focused on providing assistance and support to those affected by the accident.
Sumwalt said that the forward-facing video recorder from the Amtrak locomotive had been recovered and was already transported to the NTSB offices in Washington D.C. for investigation.
The event recorders from both trains were still being sought, he said.
“Fully operational positive train control could have avoided this accident,” Sumwalt said.
In a tweet, NTSB said it expected to release additional information at 4 p.m. Eastern Feb. 5.
The Cayce accident is the third fatal incident in three months involving Amtrak trains. A derailment off an overpass in Washington state in December killed three passengers, and an occupant of a garbage truck that was struck by an Amtrak train Jan. 31 near Charlottesville, Va., also died.
A SMART Transportation Division member was killed on the job Wednesday (Oct. 9) afternoon in a railroad switching accident at a Colorado Springs, Colo., industrial complex.
According to media reports, BNSF Railway conductor Dawn Trettenero, 42, was trapped between two rail cars. Firefighters told Television Station KKTV that they arrived within minutes of being notified of the accident, but Trettenero was already dead when they arrived.
“There were other employees present when this occurred, so we have witnesses that we are talking to,” said police spokesperson Lt. Catherine Buckley.
Trettenero was a member of Transportation Division Local 202 at Denver. She joined the union in December 2011. She is the second Transportation Division member to die on the job this year
Colorado State Legislative Director Carl Smith, a member of the SMART Transportation Division’s Transportation Safety Team, has been assigned to assist the National Transportation Safety Board with its accident investigation.
Local 202 Chairperson Brent Conlin reports that a memorial service for Trettenero will be held from 2-4 p.m., Wednesday Oct. 15, at Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary and Cemetery. It is located at 7777 W. 29th Ave. in Wheatridge, Colo.
Two Union Pacific Railroad employees were killed and two others were injured when two UP trains collided early Sunday (Aug. 17) morning in Hoxie, Ark.
SMART Transportation Division member and conductor Roderick A. Hayes, 31, and engineer Chance Gober, 40, were both killed on the southbound train, according to a report by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Injured on the northbound train were SMART Transportation Division member and conductor Aaron P. Jeffery and engineer Michael Zompakos.
Hayes and Jeffery both belonged to SMART Transportation Division 656 at North Little Rock, Ark.
Details on the conditions of Jeffery and Zompakos are not yet available.
The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating and General Chairperson James Herndon and Georgia State Legislative Director Matt Campbell of the SMART Transportation Safety Team have been assigned to assist in the investigation.
The SMART Transportation Safety Team (TST) is comprised of 17 members of the SMART Transportation Division, each of whom is on call 24 hours a day to assist in determining the facts in rail-related accidents.
Hayes was a SMART member for 20 months and Jeffery has been a SMART member for approximately 10 years.