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Smoke, blood, wreckage

Passengers on a train that slammed into an empty freight train over the weekend in South Carolina, killing two Amtrak employees, described a smoky, bloody scene in 911 calls released to the news media.

"There's babies with their heads busted wide open, bleeding," one woman said to a dispatcher in a call released Tuesday to local news outlets. "Everybody flew to the front of the train. ... Everything is everywhere."

In another call, a man described seeing smoke inside the cars and "a lot of people hurt." An Amtrak employee asks dispatchers to send "plenty of help" for the injured.

In interviews with The Associated Press, passengers have described seats ripped from their rows and luggage strewn about the passenger compartments after the crash early Sunday morning near Cayce, S.C. The conductor and engineer aboard the New York-to-Miami Amtrak train were killed when that craft collided with a CSX Corp. freight train parked on a side track. More than 100 passengers were treated at hospitals for injuries.

"We're on the train, but some of us have chest pains," another man told a dispatcher. "We need some help. ... I've got to sit down, I can't breathe."

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that railway signals were out at the time of the crash while crews installed a safety system that could have prevented the exact type of wreck that killed engineer Michael Kempf and conductor Michael Cella.

Automated signals that could have warned the passenger train to stop before reaching the switch sending it down the side track were turned off as workers installed a GPS-based system called positive train control, or PTC, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

A day before, Sumwalt told reporters "an operational PTC is designed to prevent this type of incident."

Federal investigators also said a locked manual switch forced the passenger train onto the side track where the empty freight train was parked after having offloaded its cargo nearby.

The crew that parked the CSX freight train on the side track and left the padlocked switch in position to divert trains from the main line were interviewed Monday, along with the dispatcher keeping up with trains in the area as the signals weren't working, Sumwalt said.

The Amtrak engineer sounded his horn seven seconds before the crash and applied emergency brakes three seconds before the train collided with the other locomotive at 80 km/h, Sumwalt said, citing information from the passenger train's data recorder.



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