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.
RICHMOND, Va. – Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo today called on elected officials and transportation planners in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to develop a shared vision of rail service along the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor (SEHSR) between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. Administrator Szabo’s challenge came as he addressed members and supporters of Virginians for High-Speed Rail during their 20th anniversary luncheon in Richmond.
“The metropolitan regions of the South and the Southeast in particular, are growing faster than other metropolitan regions across the country,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “In order to meet the mobility needs of a growing population and to move the products they will need to market, rail must play an enhanced role in the transportation delivery network there.”
Across the country, regions are banding together to forge collective long-term visions for passenger rail. Along the Northeast Corridor (NEC), eight states and the District of Columbia are working on a 40-year plan for rail service between Boston and Washington, D.C. In the Midwest, nine states and 40 cities have already developed the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a planning guide for long-term rail investments.
“Good planning is the cornerstone of service delivery and a plan reflecting the collective vision for a region helps the region compete effectively for future rail funds as money becomes available,” said Joseph C. Szabo, Federal Railroad Administrator. “In order for the region to achieve optimum growth, it will be necessary for them to work together more closely and plan for their transportation future.”
Administrator Szabo said regional planning between Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia could effectively yield seamless passenger rail travel all along the East Coast from Boston to Atlanta.
During his address, Administrator Szabo also highlighted the importance of the Grow America Act , the Obama Administration’s four-year $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill now before Congress. The bill includes $19 billion for rail, and for the first time, would provide railroads with a predictable, dedicated funding source. The Act will invest $600 million in existing state corridors like the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor and provide an additional $6.4 billion for rail service improvements along existing, expanding and new passenger corridors over the next four years.
Passenger ridership has been setting record highs in the Southeast. In Virginia, passenger ridership is up 100 percent since 2009 and in North Carolina Amtrak’s Piedmont service between Charlotte and Raleigh continues to set ridership records carrying about 100,000 more people in 2013 than it did in 2009. Since 2007, passenger ridership in Georgia increased by 15 percent and by 14 percent in South Carolina.
Similarly, freight rail traffic in the Southeast has been increasing since 2009 an average of 10 percent annually. Georgia has seen an increase of nearly 13 percent with a more than 883,000 carloads of freight annually.
The Federal Railroad Administration, along with its 32 state partners and the District of Columbia, is laying the foundation for a higher performance rail network. Sixty-five projects worth $4.1 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funding are currently completed, under construction, or will soon start construction in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Today, about $736 million in federal funding supports a dozen projects along the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.