STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

2 killed, 116 hurt when Amtrak train crashes into stationary freight train

A railroad track switch locked into the wrong position apparently caused an Amtrak passenger train to crash into a st...

Posted: Feb 5, 2018 10:52 AM
Updated: Feb 5, 2018 10:52 AM

A railroad track switch locked into the wrong position apparently caused an Amtrak passenger train to crash into a stationary freight train in South Carolina, killing two Amtrak employees and injuring 116 people, an NTSB official said Sunday afternoon.

Amtrak Train 91 was traveling south and should have continued straight down the tracks, but the rail switch had been manually set to divert the train onto the side track where the CSX train was parked, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a news conference.

A padlock held the switch in its alignment, which is standard procedure when switches are manually operated, Sumwalt said.

"Key to that investigation is learning why that switch was lined (aligned) that way," he said.

Sumwalt said video from the front of the Amtrak train had been recovered and sent to Washington, where it will be inspected. That will help investigators determine what happened in the 2:30 a.m. collision, including whether the train braked or was exceeding the 59 mph speed limit, he said.

Engineer, conductor killed

Lexington County spokesman Harrison Cahill said 116 people were injured and transported to hospitals, with injuries ranging from scratches to broken bones.

Officials had initially said 70 people with injuries were transported for treatment, but later adjusted the figure.

Killed were two Amtrak employees: train engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and a conductor, Michael Cella, 36 of Orange Park, Florida, Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said.

No positive train control

Sumwalt said the crash could have been avoided if positive train control -- a system that combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or speeding -- had been in place.

Railroad companies have until the end of 2018 and possibly two more years afterward to implement PTC.

Sumwalt said he didn't know why this particular train didn't have PTC.

Richard Anderson, Amtrak CEO and president, told CNN's Rene Marsh that the signal system along the section of track where the crash occurred was down and the tracks were being manually controlled by CSX. Sumwalt confirmed the tracks were owned and operated by CSX.

Anderson said the CSX dispatch center directed the Amtrak train to the track where the derailment happened. Anderson said the CSX dispatch center was manually directing the Amtrak train via telephone communications.

According to Anderson, CSX has complete control of the tracks, signals and switches in the area where the crash happened.

CSX statement

A CSX spokesperson issued this statement on Sunday:

"Our sincere condolences go out to the families of the two individuals who passed away following the tragic events that took place in Cayce, South Carolina, early this morning. We remain focused on providing assistance and support to those impacted by today's incident.

"CSX hosts more passenger trains on its network than any other major railroad in the United States, and passenger rail remains one of the safest ways to travel. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into this incident and CSX will continue working with the investigating team."

Fuel spilled

The Amtrak Train 91 was traveling between New York and Miami with a nine crew members and 147 people aboard when it collided with the CSX freight train in Cayce about 2:35 a.m. Sunday, derailing the lead engine and some of the seven passenger cars, Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt said the CSX train, made up of two locomotives and 34 empty cars, had just unloaded a shipment of automobiles at a nearby siding. The CSX train was empty of people, authorities said.

About 5,000 gallons of fuel were spilled, authorities estimated, but Cahill said there was "no threat to the public at the time."

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation. Sumwalt said the investigation should take 12 to 18 months.

President Donald Trump has been briefed on the accident, according to a statement from White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters.

"My thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims involved in this morning's train collision in South Carolina," Trump wrote in a tweet on Sunday afternoon. "Thank you to our incredible First Responders for the work they've done!"

'Nobody was panicking'

Derek Pettaway was a passenger in one of the train's rear cars, headed for Orlando, he told CNN on Sunday morning. He was awakened by the impact, and the crew came through the cars "really quickly" and got everybody off the train.

"Nobody was panicking," Pettaway said. "I think people were more in shock than anything else."

Pettaway was discharged from a hospital with minor whiplash, he said. From there, he went to a shelter at Pine Ridge Middle School for passengers who didn't suffer serious injuries.

Sunday's was one of several fatal incidents involving an Amtrak train in the past few weeks.

Other Amtrak accidents

In December, an Amtrak train derailed near DuPont in Washington state and hurtled off an overpass onto Interstate 5, killing three people. The Amtrak engineer on that train told investigators he mistook a signal and braked moments before the deadly crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

A CNN investigation found that engineers and conductors had complained to supervisors that they were not adequately trained for the new route before the crash of Amtrak 501.

Last week, an Amtrak train carrying members of Congress to a Republican retreat in West Virginia struck a truck near Charlottesville, Virginia. Investigators looking into the crash are focusing on the actions of the driver of a truck, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

In mid-January, a pastor and his wife were killed in Nash County in North Carolina when their SUV was hit by an Amtrak train, according to CNN affiliate WNCN. The crash occurred after the driver maneuvered the vehicle around the lowered crossing arm.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36680

Reported Deaths: 1250
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds299254
DeSoto195920
Madison148439
Jones122449
Harrison117716
Rankin112619
Neshoba104677
Forrest103843
Lauderdale96681
Scott82415
Jackson79819
Washington73713
Copiah67016
Leake63420
Lee62822
Oktibbeha61928
Grenada6049
Warren60021
Holmes59541
Lamar5837
Wayne56519
Yazoo5607
Lowndes54817
Leflore53456
Lincoln53335
Lafayette5064
Pike50520
Sunflower5048
Monroe46135
Panola4546
Covington4465
Simpson4433
Bolivar41218
Tate39213
Attala38624
Newton37610
Adams35820
Pontotoc3556
Marion34512
Claiborne30811
Pearl River30332
Winston30111
Chickasaw30019
Marshall2923
Jasper2816
Noxubee2799
Walthall2708
Clay26111
Union25412
Smith25212
Coahoma2306
Clarke22325
Lawrence2132
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1954
Kemper18414
Carroll18211
Montgomery1793
Calhoun1705
Humphreys16910
Hancock14813
Itawamba1478
Tippah14611
Webster13411
Jefferson1283
Prentiss1274
Jefferson Davis1254
Tunica1253
George1233
Greene11610
Amite1123
Alcorn1072
Tishomingo1061
Quitman1011
Wilkinson989
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin542
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 54768

Reported Deaths: 1096
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6746170
Mobile4904140
Montgomery4547112
Tuscaloosa269053
Madison22689
Marshall198011
Shelby169125
Lee159637
Morgan13385
Baldwin127711
Walker107532
Elmore106721
Etowah101114
Dallas10029
DeKalb9677
Franklin93816
Autauga69815
Russell6860
Unassigned67928
Chambers67730
Butler65229
Limestone6393
Tallapoosa63069
Cullman6156
Houston6077
Lauderdale5776
St. Clair5443
Calhoun5155
Colbert5096
Escambia4888
Lowndes48422
Pike4795
Jackson4352
Coffee4284
Covington41612
Talladega4017
Barbour3992
Dale3951
Bullock37810
Hale35423
Marengo35411
Chilton3312
Blount3201
Clarke3176
Wilcox3038
Winston2995
Sumter29213
Marion29014
Pickens2746
Randolph2639
Monroe2603
Perry2502
Conecuh2318
Bibb2241
Macon2199
Choctaw21712
Greene1989
Henry1553
Washington1488
Lawrence1360
Crenshaw1323
Cherokee1247
Geneva980
Lamar891
Clay852
Fayette851
Coosa661
Cleburne451
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Few Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 92°
Columbus
Few Clouds
92° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 101°
Oxford
Few Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 90°
Starkville
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 93°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather