Category Archives: AMTRAK

Amtrak train on wrong track in deadly crash; it says freight line controls signals

Channel 8 News

A Miami-bound Amtrak train appeared to be on the wrong track when it collided with a freight train in South Carolina early Sunday, killing two people and injuring 116, according to authorities.

Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference Sunday afternoon that the track the Amtrak train was on had been manually switched and “lined and locked.” It caused it to divert from the main line and onto a side track, where the freight train was parked.

“Of course key to this investigation is learning why that switch was lined that way because the expectation is the Amtrak would be cleared and would be operating straight down” the main line, Sumwalt said.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said at a news conference that a CSX freight train appeared to be on a loading track when the Amtrak train with 147 people aboard slammed into it at 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, South Carolina, just east of Columbia.

Authorities investigate the scene of a fatal Amtrak train crash in Cayce, S.C., Feb. 4, 2018.

“It appears that the Amtrak was on the wrong track,” McMaster said at the news conference midday Sunday. “They weren’t supposed to be meeting right there by the bridge, clearly. And it may be a time factor, but that’s what it appears to me. But I defer to those who are experts in that and do have the correct information, but it appears that Amtrak was on the wrong track.”

The two people who died were the train conductor and engineer, the county coroner said.

Amtrak officials said in a statement that they are “deeply saddened” by the deaths of its employees and that the agency is cooperating fully with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration in the investigation of the crash.

Richard Anderson, Amtrak’s president and chief executive officer, told reporters in a telephone news conference that CSX railroad operates all aspects of the tracks in the area where the crash occurred.

“They are in complete control of the track, the signaling, the switching and, in fact, our train engineers and conductors, as we move over their railroad, are directed and in regular contact with the dispatch center at CSX,” Anderson said.

He said at the time of the crash Amtrak crew was communicating with a CSX dispatcher via a telephone communication system. He said the signaling system that controls traffic on the four tracks in the area was down for maintenance.

“Normally the train is directed by the dispatcher and the dispatcher in this case was CSX,” Anderson said. “The control of which train is on which track is within the authority of the dispatcher and the host railroad that controls the switch.”

He said Amtrak train 91, which was traveling from Penn Station in New York to Miami, should have been on the main line, but it was directed to tracks just east of it, where a CSX train was parked.

The speed the Amtrak train was going at the time of the collision is still under investigation, but Sumwalt said the speed limit in the area is 59 miles per hour.

Sunwalt said the CSX train had two locomotives and 34 empty auto-rack cars. He said prior to the Amtrak train’s arrival in the area, the CSX train had unloaded automobiles on the west side of the main line and then used it to back into a side track on the east side of the main line.

Asked if there was any evidence of a mechanical problem with the rail switch that diverted the Amtrak onto the side track, Sumwalt said, “We were able to see that it was actually literally locked with a padlock to make it lined to go into the siding.”

He said typically when rail switches are mechanically thrown “the conductor will get out and lock it in that particular position.” He said the investigation will focus on why the rail switch wasn’t put back to allow the Amtrak train to keep moving straight down the main line.

Sumwalt also said a front-facing video camera in the Amtrak locomotive had been recovered and sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington, D.C., to be analyzed. He said the train’s event data recorder, which should say the exact speed of the train when it crashed and if the crew tried to apply the brakes, had not been located as of Sunday evening.

“I can tell you there’s catastrophic damage to each of the locomotives,” Sumwalt said. “In fact, I would say that the Amtrak locomotive would be not recognizable at all.”

Sumwalt said the CSX controlled tracks were not equipped with Positive Train Control, a high-tech overlay system Amtrak uses on tracks it operates. The system is designed to read signals and automatically stop a train before certain accidents occur.

“An operational PTC system is designed to prevent this type of accident,” Sumwalt said.

CSX offered its condolences to the victims in a tweet on Sunday, but it did not comment on the ongoing investigation.

“Our sincere condolences go out to the families of the two individuals who passed away following the tragic events that took place in Cayce, SC this morning,” the statement said. “We remain focused on providing assistance and support to those impacted by today’s accident.”

The crash came just five days after an Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress collided with a garbage truck in western Virginia, killing one passenger and injuring several others.

Sunday’s wreck was the third fatal Amtrak incident since mid-December.

The two Amtrak employees killed Sunday are 54-year-old Michael Kempf, the train engineer, and 36-year-old Michael Cella, the train conductor, said Margaret Fisher, coroner for Lexington County, South Carolina. Kempf was from Savannah, George, and Cella from Orange Park, Florida, Fisher said.

Both men were in the first car, the locomotive car, when the collision occurred, the coroner said. She said she spoke on the phone to the wives of both men.

“They were very distraught, very shocked, as anyone would be in this situation,” the coroner, Fisher, said.

Fisher added that given the size of the trains involved and how many people were aboard the Amtrak, “You would have expected more fatalities.”

The more than 100 people injured suffered everything from minor cuts to broken bones, Gov. McMaster said. At least 62 people were treated at three hospitals in the area, said Dr. Eric Brown, the executive physician for Palmetto Health.

He said three children were among those treated at hospitals.

Brown said six people were admitted to hospitals for more severe injuries, including head trauma.

Anderson said that besides the P-42 locomotive, the Amtrak train was comprised of three coach cars, a cafe lounge car, two sleeper cars and a baggage car.

Alexandra Delgado of Tampa, Florida, told ABC News she boarded the train in Raleigh, North Carolina, about 9:30 p.m. Saturday and was riding the rails because she’s terrified to fly. She said she was sitting in a car near the front of the train when the crash occurred.

“People were screaming. I thought I was gonna die. I didn’t think I was gonna survive that,” Delgado said as she waited at Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital in Columbia to be treated for two injured knees. “When we crashed, everyone got ejected from their seats… Trays all over.”

She said her sister-in-law, who was sitting next to her on the train, suffered a shattered ankle. She said she saw an elderly woman with a bloodied face and a bone sticking out of her leg, and another women who was sitting in front of her with a severe jaw injury.

“Don’t ask me to get on another train,” Delgado said. “I’m never gonna get on a train.”

Passenger Derek Pettaway told ABC News that he and his wife were in a sleeper car near the back of the train when the crash occurred.

“There was a lot of violent shaking and everything just came to a stop, and I hit my head on the wall,” said Pettaway, 33, of the Philadelphia area, who was traveling with his wife, Erin, 32, to Orlando for vacation. “When it was happening, it was quick. You just knew it was not the regular type of movement.”


Amtrak maintenance backlog tops $38 billion on northeast route

Crains New York Business via California Rail News

The busiest U.S. passenger rail route needs $38 billion to stay in good working order, a 36% jump over the estimate just a year ago, according to a group that oversees the Northeast Corridor.
Though Amtrak and the regional railroads that use its tracks have pledged $3.3 billion for infrastructure over five years, that won’t go toward the backlog of projects needed to refurbish signals and power systems, replace bridges and build a new Hudson River tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, according to a five-year capital-investment  plan released Thursday by the Northeast Corridor Commission.
All told, 820,000 daily riders—two-thirds of them commuters using New Jersey Transit, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road—are at risk of increased service interruptions or even failure of the entire 457-mile Boston-to-Washington route. Last fiscal year, 11% of trains using the line were late or canceled.
The Gateway Project which includes a new Hudson River rail tunnel to relieve commuter rail congestion is $25 Billion of this $38 Billion backlog.

Denver Winter Park Express ski train A Success, Amtrak Says

The new Winter Park Express weekend Amtrak train between Denver Union Station and the high-country ski resort has seen more than 15,000 passengers since it started on Jan. 7.

The train runs Saturdays and Sundays through March 26, with an extra train added to the schedule on Monday, Feb. 20 — President’s Day.

The success of the train — the result of a partnership between Amtrak, Winter Park Resort, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the nonprofit Colorado Rail Passenger Association — has surprised many.

“The fact that there are 15,000 people who have done this, and we’re half-way through the season — the number is eye-popping,” said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman.

Saturday trains frequently are sold-out events, Magliari said.

Five of the first six Saturdays have sold out and the remaining weekends in February and March are selling fast, according to Amtrak.

Steve Hurlbert, a spokesman for Winter Park Resort, said resort officials are “stunned” by the numbers.

“Amtrak does this kind of thing for a living and knows the metrics. We’re blown away,” Hurlbert said. “We knew it would be popular but the fact that we’re only half-way through the season and we’re at 15,000 people is incredible.”

The train’s schedule calls for leaving Denver Union Station on weekends, plus Presidents’ Day, about 7 a.m. and arriving at Winter Park between 8:30 and 9 a.m. It leaves the resort about 4:30, arriving back in Denver shortly after 6 p.m.

The train’s special platform, with heated coils embedded in the concrete to combat ice and snow, is about 50 paces from the first lifts.

But the train isn’t only popular with skiers, Hurlbert said.

“We’re seeing lodging pick up on the weekends and we have more non-skiers coming up,” he said.

Each train can hold more than 500 people, and on average “a little more than 100” of the people on the Saturday morning trains are spending the night, Hurlbert said.

CenturyLink signed on as a sponsor of the train service, and new sponsors have also joined, including Noosa Yoghurt, Clif Bar and Koelbel & Co. real estate company.

AMTRAK CEO Wants Investment in Infrastructure, Fleet, and Stations.

Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman urged a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security to invest in the carrier’s infrastructure, fleet, and stations.

“The time is now to invest in our aging assets,” Moorman said in prepared remarks. “More than ever, our nation and the traveling public rely on Amtrak for mobility, but the future of Amtrak depends on whether we can renew the cars, locomotives, bridges, tunnels, stations and other infrastructure that allows us to meet these growing.

Amtrak had record ridership of more than 31 million passengers and ticket revenues of $2.2 billion in 2016, Moorman said. “I’m certain that we can get even better by relentlessly improving our safety culture, modernizing and upgrading our products and strengthening our operational efficiency and project delivery.”

The former chief executive of Norfolk Southern said that Amtrak, now 45 years of age, needs additional support from Congress and the Trump Administration to upgrade aging assets in order to continue to provide reliable services and network operations.

The benefits to the traveling public and the national economy are worth significant investment, said Moorman, including in these projects:

• Construction of the Portal North Bridge and new Hudson Tunnels, both parts of the larger Gateway Program that will ensure that 450 daily Amtrak and NJ Transit trains can continue to serve New York City from the south;

• Construction of new B&P Tunnel and Susquehanna Bridge in Maryland to expand service and improve trip-time;

• Expansion and improvement of Chicago and Washington Union Stations to improve accessibility, expand capacity, spur local development and enhance safety;

• Construction of a fleet of new or rebuilt diesel locomotives to support Amtrak’s national network; and

• Construction of track, signaling, and other improvements to remove chokepoints on host railroads or restore service in key underserved markets, such as along the Gulf Coast.

Amtrak, he said, is focused on identifying ways to improve collaboration with the 21 states and various commuter agencies it partners with to provide service on corridors across the country as well as on the Northeast Corridor.

Moorman urged the Federal government to explore different ways to back intercity passenger rail service such as direct investments, public-private partnerships and innovative financing, streamlining of the environmental review process, and less bureaucratic red tape.

Moorman added that such rail infrastructure investments not only help Amtrak better serve passengers, but also stimulate job growth in construction, manufacturing, and professional services. Rail cars, locomotives, steel, concrete, machinery, signals and track are sourced from across the nation.

“Investments in these sectors can help spur the rebirth of America’s passenger rail manufacturing and supply sector,” he said.

Upgrade for America’s Busiest Rail Lines Depends on Trump Administration

A U.S. agency on Friday endorsed an expensive plan to expand and repair the busy U.S. Northeast Corridor rail lines over the next three decades, adding new tracks in most locations and cutting the time to travel from Washington to New York by 35 minutes.

But it will be up to the incoming Donald Trump administration and Congress, states, cities, and railroads to decide whether to move forward with expensive improvements. New projects and tracks will require more review and more environmental studies, as well as significant funding.

Trump has promised to spend billions of dollars on improvements in U.S. infrastructure such as highways, bridges, and mass transit.

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Friday recommended adding new tracks to increase the Northeast Corridor to four tracks in most locations — an expansion it says it would result in four billion fewer miles a year traveled on U.S. roads.

The FRA also proposes adding many regional trains and providing up to five times more intercity trains.

It estimates the plan’s total cost at $123 billion to $128 billion.

In 2012, at the urging of Congress, Northeastern states and the federal agency began working together to develop a plan for the corridor.

Under the proposal, the agency said, travel time from Boston to New York would be 45 minutes faster for a total time of two hours and 45 minutes, while travel from New York to Washington would be 35 minutes faster for a total time of two hours and 10 minutes.

About 750,000 people a day ride along some section of the 457-mile (735-km) corridor, making them the busiest rail lines in the United States, while 70 freight trains use the corridor daily, moving over 350,000 carloads of freight annually.

Amtrak’s high-speed Acela passenger train plies the Northeast Corridor from Boston to Washington, but currently cannot hit top speeds on many sections of the railroad because of the condition of the tracks.

The FRA also proposes adding intercity access to Philadelphia Airport so that passengers do not have to change trains at 30th Street Station and adding direct service to Hartford, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts.

The agency also proposes bringing the current corridor back to good condition before expanding it. The FRA estimates the project would create 47,000 jobs a year for 30 years.

AMTRAK’S Mr. Fixit

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I’m a plumber, Amtrak’s new president and chief executive said at the outset of a conversation this week with writers for Trains Magazine. Wick Moorman began by noting that he didn’t take the top job last September 1 with an eye toward staying very long. He’s vague on how long his short tenure will be—I’m going to guess 12 to 18 months. But he wants to accomplish a few things before he leaves, and one of them is to fix the railroad’s plumbing.

By that, he means the way the company is run and managed. Let’s be frank and admit that Amtrak has drifted more and more toward acting and behaving like an agency of the U.S. government. That’s what the Federal Railroad Administration would no doubt like it to be, and Congressional directions to FRA to act as Amtrak’s overseer have pushed the company in that direction.

Moorman would like to have Amtrak behave more like a for-profit company, which in fact it is. He wants employees and their managers to be trained to do the jobs they are hired to do and then be held accountable. He wants Amtrak to be respected within the railroad industry for its competence (today I don’t think it is). He wants customers to get off his trains believing they got their money’s worth and feeling that they were treated with respect.

But he doesn’t think Amtrak is “broken.” It just needs some fixing, and he is Mr. Fixit, the plumber who will tighten the management pipes.

His other overarching goal is to find and groom a permanent successor who will continue to run Amtrak in a professional manner. There are a couple of people within the organization capable of this. I won’t ruin their chances by revealing their names. But I suspect that by the middle of 2017 someone will be hired from outside or promoted from within to a job just under that held by Moorman, and then you’ll know who the successor-in-training is.

I get the impression from our conversation with Moorman that his day-to-day attention will be directed first of all to securing funding for needed improvements to the Northeast Corridor, which Amtrak owns, and secondly to improving Amtrak’s relations with states that support the shorter-haul trains. It’s fair to say most states which pay for Amtrak trains feel they are overcharged based on what they get in return. Indiana has rebelled, putting marketing and equipment of the Hoosier State in the hands of short line operator Iowa Pacific Holdings. Other states would like to do the same, but don’t know how. Frictions between Amtrak and the states are a sore that begs to be healed, and this appears to be high on Moorman’s agenda.

As for long-distance trains, he recognizes that they are Amtrak’s face to the world. But they are not where his energies will be concentrated.

In short, don’t look for Amtrak’s world to be visibly changed by Wick Moorman. Much of what he accomplishes will be below our radar. But if Wick does what he has set out to do in his few months there, Amtrak will be changed for the better, if mostly out of sight. We would all applaud such an outcome. The flip side is that if it’s more trains and billion-dollar orders for new equipment you want, wait for his successor.

This is my take on the meeting, from 35,000 feet. Read much, much more in the March issue of Trains, from my colleagues Don Philips and Bob Johnston.—Fred W. Frailey