2 Amtrak workers killed, 116 hurt in South Carolina crash

Updated: Feb 05, 2018, 09:09 IST | PTI

An Amtrak passenger train slammed into a freight train parked on a side track in South Carolina early today, killing two Amtrak crew members and injuring more than 110 people

South Carolina crash
A derailed Amtrak car can be seen up the tracks near a crossing after an early morning collision with a CSX freight train on February 4, 2018 in Cayce, South Carolina. Two Amtrak employees were killed and more than 100 others injured February 4, 2018 when a passenger train carrying 147 people hit a freight train in the US state of South Carolina, authorities said.Amtrak train 91 -- traveling between New York and Miami -- derailed in Cayce, outside the state capital Columbia, when it collided with the CSX freight train at around 2:30 am (0730 GMT). It was the third deadly incident involving an Amtrak train since December, raising questions about the safety of the national railway service. Pic/ AFP

An Amtrak passenger train slammed into a freight train parked on a side track in South Carolina early today, killing two Amtrak crew members and injuring more than 110 people, authorities said. It was the third deadly wreck involving Amtrak in less than two months. The Silver Star was on its way from New York to Miami with nearly 150 people aboard around 2:45 am (loval time)) when it plowed into the CSX train at an estimated 59 mph, Gov Henry McMaster said. The crash happened around a switchyard about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Columbia.

The governor said investigators have yet to determine how the Amtrak train ended up on that stretch of track. "The CSX was on the track it was supposed to be on," McMaster said. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the scene. In an emailed statement, Amtrak said that it was "deeply saddened" by the deaths and that it was cooperating fully with the NTSB. It did not address the cause of the crash but said CSX maintains all of the tracks and signal systems where the accident happened and controls access to the sidings and yards.

CSX did not immediately return an email and telephone call. The conductor and engineer aboard the Amtrak locomotive were killed, the coroner's office said. And 116 people were taken to four hospitals, according to the governor. The main trauma hospital in the area had three patients in critical or serious condition, with the rest treated for minor injuries such as cuts, bruises and whiplash, said Dr Steve Shelton, Palmetto Health director of emergency preparedness. 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," McMaster said after touring the scene. Many passengers were asleep with the train began shaking violently and then slammed to a halt, passenger Derek Pettaway told CBS. "You knew we'd hit something or we'd derailed," he said. Elliot Smith told The State newspaper of Columbia that he was staying with a friend when they heard what sounded like a propane tank exploding. "The sound was so loud, you instantly knew it was bad," he said. Smith said he and his friend saw passengers limping along the tracks, while others tried to get everyone out of the cars.

Amtrak officials gathered up luggage and other belongings and within hours put passengers aboard buses to their destinations. Before being sent on their way, those who were not hurt were taken to a shelter set up at a middle school, 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.

The dead were identified as engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Florida. Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher's voice caught as she released the names of the dead. "Any time you have anything that happens like that, you expect more fatalities. But God blessed us, and we only had the two," Fisher 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 December 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. After the latest crash, Democratic Sen Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said the nation's railroads must be made safer, declaring, "Business as usual must end." He said proven technology, including positive train control, cannot continue to be delayed.

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