Amtrak suffered its third high-profile crash in less than seven weeks early Sunday when a passenger train traveling on the wrong track slammed into a stationary freight train in South Carolina, killing two people and intensifying worries about the safety and reliability of passenger rail service in the United States.
Although the crash was the subject of a federal inquiry Sunday, Amtrak’s chief executive, Richard H. Anderson, said that a signal system had been down and that dispatchers from another company, CSX, were routing trains at about the time of the wreck.
The passenger train, heading south, was diverted onto a rail siding where, while apparently traveling below the speed limit, it crashed into a CSX train that had been loaded with automobiles.
But with the specific sequence of events and cause of the crash unlikely to be settled for many months, the episode, which injured at least 116 people and allowed thousands of gallons of fuel to spill, posed a new challenge for a beleaguered Amtrak.
By one crucial metric, Amtrak is stronger than ever: In its most recent fiscal year, it posted a record-high ridership of about 31.7 million passenger trips. Yet a series of fatal accidents in recent months have triggered a test of confidence in the rail service.
“Amtrak has put a question in people’s minds,” said James E. Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash in South Carolina.
On Wednesday, a train carrying Republican members of Congress to a retreat in West Virginia hit a garbage truck in rural Virginia, killing a passenger in the truck. And in December, a passenger train on a newly opened Amtrak route jumped the tracks on an overpass near Seattle, killing at least three people and injuring about 100 others.
Gov. Henry McMaster said the engine of the Amtrak train Sunday was “barely recognizable.”
The Lexington County coroner, Margaret Fisher, identified the dead as Amtrak employees: the train’s 54-year-old engineer, Michael Kempf, of Savannah, Georgia, and a conductor, Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Florida. Both men were in the first car of the train.
News Credit: Pulse.ng