Investigators probe train derailment amid questions

Written by The Associated Press | May 14, 2015 4:59 AM

Photo by AP Photo/Matt Slocum

National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt speaks at a news conference near the scene of a deadly Amtrak train wreck, Wednesday in Philadelphia. Sumwalt says the train was traveling at 106 mph when the engineer hit the brakes Tuesday night.

(Philadelphia) -- Federal investigators are trying to determine why an Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia, killing at least seven people, was careening through the city at 106 mph before it ran off the rails along a sharp curve where the speed limit drops to just 50 mph. 

Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board, says a data recorder and a video camera in the train's front end could yield clues to what happened.

"We have a forward-facing video camera that is in the head end of the locomotive, the front end of the train, so we'll be looking at that," he says. "The event recorders themselves can give you information about the speed of the train, any brake applications, any throttle applications that the engineer could have made. "Horn. Bell. It can give us a lot."

The Federal Railroad Administration says Amtrak inspected the stretch of track on Tuesday, just hours before the accident, and found no defects. 

But, the crash appears to be yet another accident that didn't have to happen. 

Accident investigators say information they've gathered shows the crash could have been avoided if a long-sought safety technology had been installed on Amtrak tracks. 

Seven years ago, Congress gave Amtrak and freight and commuter railroads until the end of this year to install the technology, called positive train control, on their trains and tracks.

But few, if any, railroads are expected to meet the deadline.

Now some lawmakers are proposing to give railroads another five to seven years to get the task done. 

The technology uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and can apply brakes automatically if trains exceed speed limits or are in danger of collision. 


Photo by AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek

Meantime, former top U.S. transportation official says investigators should consider seat belts when they formulate their recommendations. 

Ray LaHood was transportation secretary from 2009 to 2013.

He told NBC News he's ridden Amtrak's Northeast Corridor line frequently and has often thought about seat belts. 

His comments have rekindled the debate over whether passengers would be safer if they were required to wear seat belts. 

Temple Hospital's chief medical officer says nearly all of the approximately two dozen passengers treated there following the crash Tuesday night suffered rib injuries. 

A 2007 study by Britain's Rail Safety and Standards Board recommended against fitting train seats with seat belts, concluding they wouldn't necessarily reduce the number of serious injuries. 

More than 200 people aboard the Washington-to-New York train were injured in the wreck.

At least 10 people remain hospitalized in critical condition.

It was the nation's deadliest train accident in nearly seven years. 

Modified train service continues on the busy Northeast Corridor in the wake of the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. 

There is no service between New York City and Philadelphia. 

Amtrak trains will make fewer trips than normal between Washington and Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and New York City and Boston. 

Passengers can check schedules online or by calling 800-USA-RAIL. 

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