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Second Amtrak Crash In 5 Days Kills 2 People

Feb 4, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For the second time in a week, an Amtrak train has crashed. Early this morning, a passenger train with 147 people on board crashed into an empty CSX freight car in South Carolina. Two people were killed, an engineer and the conductor according to the coroner. One-hundred-sixteen people were hospitalized. Amtrak says the signal system run by a private railroad was down, and dispatchers at CSX were manually routing trains at the time of the crash. NPR's Amy Held reports it is the third incident in three months.

AMY HELD, BYLINE: Train 91 was headed from New York to Miami when it slammed into the parked freight train in KC, just south of Columbia. It happened around 2:30 in the morning, so many of the passengers were sleeping, including Erin Witman, who spoke to MSNBC.

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ERIN WITMAN: We just awoke to violent shaking. I just knew immediately we were off the tracks, and I couldn't believe it was actually happening. And we quickly ground to a halt. Everybody remained calm and quiet.

HELD: South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster estimates the train had been moving around 60 miles an hour.

HENRY MCMASTER: It's a horrible thing to see, to understand the forces involved. I mean, two trains - that's about as forceful as you can get. The first engine of the freight train, of course, was torn up and it - the single engine of the passenger train, the Amtrak train, which was headed south, was barely recognizable.

HELD: Officials say they aren't sure why the accident happened, but McMaster says it seems like the Amtrak train was on the wrong track.

MCMASTER: We don't know. I'll say it appears to me that the CSX was on the track that it was supposed to be on, and that appears to be a loading track or a switch track.

HELD: The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the crash. Chairman Robert Sumwalt said a switch diverted the Amtrak train into the siding.

ROBERT SUMWALT: Key to this investigation is learning why that switch was lined that way.

HELD: Just before Christmas, another Amtrak train derailed on its inaugural run in Washington state, killing three. And in 2015, yet another jumped the tracks in Philadelphia, injuring more than 200 and killing eight. Experts say an automatic braking system, known as positive train control could help save lives. Congress has set an end of the year deadline for the nation's railroads to fully implement it. A hearing is scheduled for later this month.

On Wednesday, none of the Republican Congress members aboard an Amtrak train that collided with a garbage truck in Virginia was injured, though somebody on the truck died. A day earlier, President Trump asked both parties to come together and create a 1.5 trillion-dollar initiative to rebuild, quote, "our crumbling infrastructure." Amy Held, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.