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2 dead in train crash

UPDATE: 2:33 p.m.

An Amtrak passenger train slammed into a parked freight train in the early-morning darkness Sunday after a thrown switch sent it hurtling down a side track, authorities said. Two Amtrak crew members were killed, and more than 100 people were injured.

The Silver Star, en route from New York to Miami with nearly 150 people aboard, was going an estimated 59 mph when it struck the empty CSX train around 2:45 a.m., Gov. Henry McMaster said.

The crash happened near a switchyard about 10 miles (16 kilometres) south of Columbia where railcars hauling automobiles are loaded and unloaded.

Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators found a switch had been set in a position that forced the Amtrak train off the main track and onto the siding.

He said the question for investigators is why that happened.

Amtrak President Richard Anderson appeared to point the finger at CSX, saying the signal system run by the freight railroad at that spot was down at the time, and CSX dispatchers were manually routing trains. The NTSB said it was working to confirm that.

CSX issued a statement expressing condolences but said nothing about the cause of the accident.

Sumwalt said that positive train control — a GPS-based safety system that can automatically slow or stop trains — could have prevented the accident.

Investigators recovered a camera from the front of the Amtrak train and were looking for the data recorders from the two trains.

The switch that triggered the crash was padlocked in position, which conductors are supposed to do when they move a train from one line to another, Sumwalt said.

The conductor and engineer aboard the Amtrak locomotive were killed. And 116 people were taken to four hospitals, according to the governor.

Palmetto Health emergency room doctor Eric Brown said so many passengers were hurt that they were brought in on two buses.

The locomotives of both trains were left crumpled, the Amtrak engine on its side. One car in the middle of the Amtrak train was snapped in half, forming a V off to one side of the tracks.

"It's a horrible thing to see, to understand the force involved," the governor said after touring the scene.

In a statement, Amtrak said that it was "deeply saddened" by the deaths and added that it was co-operating fully with the NTSB, as did CSX. But Amtrak also also said CSX maintains all the tracks and signals where the accident happened and controls access to the sidings and yards.

Amtrak's Anderson said the crash shows the importance of making sure that positive train control is installed on every train and track in the nation by the government's year-end deadline.

The system is in place in the Northeast, but railroads that operate tracks used by Amtrak elsewhere in the U.S. have gotten extensions to the deadlines.

Amtrak officials gathered up luggage and other belongings and within hours put passengers aboard buses to their destinations. Many of them were asleep when the crash happened.

 

ORIGINAL: 7:49 a.m.

A crash between an Amtrak passenger train and a CSX freight train near South Carolina's capital killed two people and injured nearly 90 early Sunday, authorities said. It was the third deadly wreck involving Amtrak in less than two months.

Amtrak's Silver Star was on its way from New York to Miami with eight crew members and about 140 passengers when the crash happened around 2:45 a.m. near Cayce, authorities said.

Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said the two people killed were on the Amtrak train.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the wreck. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators.

The crash happened by a rail yard about 10 miles (16 kilometres) south of Columbia, where several track spurs split off for freight cars to be unloaded. Authorities said they haven't determined if both trains were moving at the time.

The Amtrak train's lead engine and some of the passenger cars derailed, Amtrak said. TV footage showed the locomotive on its side, its front crumpled.

At least 89 people were taken to hospitals, and three were admitted, hospital officials said.

Amtrak officials worked to gather luggage and other belongings and line up buses to take passengers on to their destinations. Those who weren't hurt were taken in patrol cars to a shelter, and local businesses provided coffee and breakfast.

"We know they are shaken up quite a bit. We know this is like nothing else they have ever been through. So we wanted to get them out of the cold, get them out of the weather — get them to a warm place," sheriff's spokesman Adam Myrick said.

On Wednesday, a chartered Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress to a strategy retreat slammed into a garbage truck at a crossing in rural Virginia, killing one person in the truck and injuring six others.

And on Dec. 18, an Amtrak train ran off the rails along a curve during its inaugural run on a route south of Tacoma, Washington, killing three people and injuring dozens. It was going nearly 80 mph, more than twice the speed limit.



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