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RAILROAD NEWS AND COMMENTARY FROM WASHINGTON BY WES VERNON


Amtrak’s Derailment: A Case For the FBI? Future Midwest Corridor In the Making?


THE FEDS WANT EVEN MORE REGULATIONS. The rail industry says that will harm the railroads. Still, the accidents continue — most recently in a highly publicized passenger derailment.


And On the NEC, No Less.


As I write, Amtrak Northeast Regional No.188, after having left Washington at about 7:10 p.m. this night (May 12), just bare- ly made it past Philadelphia, but never made it to New York. Just outside Philly, heading north to New York; Only two cars on the re- ported ten-car train remained on the track. I turn on the coverage and start taking notes in real time... According to on-the-scene reporting, for-


mer NTSB Manager Henry Hughes (retired) is talking to Megyn Kelly of Fox News, as is Robert Halstead, a safety consultant. Ear- ly reports tonight indicate the train stopped with a jolt (as if someone had quickly jammed on the brakes), along with some scary wild shaking of the train, and one report that the wheels might have became disconnected from the locomotive and had rolled on their own or from under the train itself. All kinds of crazy reports here before anyone can check them. We are hearing at this point that there are


many injuries; nearby hospitals and emergen- cy centers are full, “the first responders are dealing with a heavy volume of people being treated.” The injuries are known — but as of now, we are aware of no fatalities. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsay is


now telling hastily-gathered reporters the info is “very preliminary.” It was a four alarm response. Scratch that


about no fatalities… Five “deceased,” appar- ently including rail employees. SEPTA (the local commuter line), Amtrak and others have kept Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in- formed. Ditto Philly Mayor Michael Nutter… “Six overturned rail cars; 200 officers were on the scene. As to the severe accident, we do not know how or why it happened, and until we know, we will not speculate… Six cars, some completely overturned on their sides, ripped apart. Many victims — five of them deceased, at least six critically injured, in addition to the five fatals.” “Devastating scene,” Phila- delphia Mayor Nutter is saying. “I’ve never seen anything as disastrous as this in my life.” “Mass casualty accident.” The National Transportation Safety Board manager said the train appeared to decelerate. (Later com- ment: That must have been immediately af- ter the crew realized the train had passed 100 m.p.h. in a 50 m.p.h. zone.) One passenger, as her car overturned, complained of dirt in her mouth. She asked, “Is this going to be it?” Ac- tually, she was one of the lucky passengers in the ill-fated No. 188. Those fatals, a few days later, had just about doubled. Some survivors had to punch their way through windows with their fists just to get out. Joshua Rosat- to, driving down a parallel road in his auto- mobile, could see the twisted rail cars. Locals in the nearby Port Richmond working class neighborhood in Philly arrived at the scene


handing out bottled water to first responders. The whole scene “did not look good.” Now the death toll is up to six — one more


than observed an hour earlier by Mayor Nut- ter. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is “kept informed.”


Days later


Okay, now back to our updated in-the-pres- ent report for R&R: By now, the death toll has about doubled from the first bulletin... This reporter has vivid recollections of one


of the last of his railroad stories on the radio. Recall the big smashup in Kensington, Md. (not far from my home, incidentally). Fatali- ties and injuries piled up there as well. It was a crash involving Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and a MARC (Maryland Area Rail Commut- er) train. Some young people from a sports team were headed home riding right up with a standing view from a shut door right next to the cab occupied by the engineer/motor- man guiding the train at a fairly brisk speed, straight into the Cap. Obviously they got the worst of it.


Then, California


Two years later, a commuter train in Chats- worth, Calif., collided with a Union Pacific freight, killing 25 and injuring 125. The com- muter train engineer/motorman in that case had been digitally communicating with rail- fans along his route (as it was alleged) when he should have been paying full attention to the responsibility for guiding the train safely.


Enter: PTC


The California crash galvanized Congress to legislate that the railroads install Positive Train Control (PTC), advanced technologies designed to slow or stop a train before an ac- cident (human error or otherwise) can occur.


Enter: the FBI


Back to the present and the aftermath of the Northeast Regional just minutes out of Philly in May 2015. On the night of the accident, an assistant conductor aboard Northeast Regional No.188 said she believed she heard a radio transmis- sion indicating that the train had been hit by some projectile just prior to the deadly acci- dent. NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said investigators found damage on the train’s left-side windshield. The FBI is believed to be on the case, according to the Washington Post. The train’s engineer, Brandon Bostian, re- portedly had blacked out for about a minute at the time of the crash. He steered clear of any investigators until he acquired legal represen- tation, at which time he became “extremely cooperative,” according to interrogators.


Enter: PTC Mystery?


For now, the official probe by the FBI leaves the door open to possibilities about the “rock-throwing,” ranging from mischievous vandalism to an act of terror, and whether it had anything at all to do with the derailment.


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