Amtrak Will Resume Northeast Runs Monday as FBI Examines Engine

By and | May 18, 2015

Amtrak will resume passenger service in the Northeast corridor on Monday, a day earlier than planned, after replacing track near Philadelphia damaged in a fatal derailment last week.

The first trains will leave New York’s Penn Station at 5:30 a.m. and Philadelphia at 5:53 a.m., Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman said Sunday in an e-mailed statement. The Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other passenger trains will resume service, according to an e-mailed statement.

Service between New York and Philadelphia was halted after a train traveling at twice the speed limit for that section of track derailed on May 12, killing eight passengers and injuring more than 200 others.

“Amtrak staff and crew have been working around the clock to repair the infrastructure necessary to restore service for all the passengers who travel along the Northeast Corridor,” Boardman said in the statement.

Amtrak’s service resumes as the FBI is set to arrive on Monday to help federal transportation investigators examine the damaged windshield of the locomotive that derailed, to help determine what struck the train just before the fatal wreck.

The mystery surrounding the crash deepened late last week after an assistant conductor told investigators the train may have been hit by some type of projectile just before hurtling around a sharp curve and running off the tracks.

Windshield Mark

“We do have this mark on the windshield of the Amtrak train, so we certainly want to trace that lead down,” National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will be on scene Monday “to assist us in identifying what that may have been,” he said.

Sumwalt made the rounds of all five Sunday network talk shows a day after federal regulators ordered Amtrak, the U.S. passenger rail service, to immediately improve safety on its Northeast Corridor route between Washington and Boston.

Tuesday’s crash came as a train to New York City from Washington derailed at 106 miles (170 kilometers) per hour, well above the 50 mph limit on that part of the busiest U.S. passenger-rail route. Last week, Boardman said Amtrak was aiming to restore service by Tuesday.

While Sumwalt said it’s possible someone shot at the train, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” he downplayed that theory.

“It looks like something the size of a grapefruit,” Sumwalt said in describing the impact. “It did not even penetrate the entire windshield.” The FBI will study the “fracture pattern” on the window, he said.

Expand Technology

Amtrak must expand the use of technology to control train speeds, the Federal Railroad Administration said in a statement Saturday. Regulators also ordered Amtrak to analyze curves on its tracks along the Northeast route and add additional speed limit signs for engineers and conductors.

The order comes as the NTSB is investigating why the New York-bound train accelerated shortly before derailing on a curved section of track with a 50 mile-per-hour speed limit.

The report of a projectile hitting the windshield added a new wrinkle to the investigation, raising the possibility that the engineer was distracted by the incident and couldn’t reduce his speed in time before entering the sharp curve.

“We’re looking at everything,” Sumwalt said on CBS. “This is just another piece of the investigation.”

Sumwalt said Friday that an assistant conductor told the NTSB she overheard a radio transmission in which a commuter train engineer said his cab had been hit by a rock or was shot at. She said she heard the Amtrak engineer mention his train was hit.

No Communications

Sumwalt on ABC Sunday said no communications have been found from the Amtrak engineer to his dispatcher about being struck.

Under the safety order, Amtrak trains will have to use a technology that automatically applies the brakes if an engineer doesn’t slow down when exceeding the speed limit. The railroad already uses the system on southbound trains near the crash site. Regulators ordered its use on northbound trains as well.

Amtrak, in a blog post on its website after the order was released, said it will install systems over the weekend to ensure that northbound trains slow to 45 mph as they approach the curve where the accident occurred.

Amtrak also is installing more advanced automatic-braking technology known as positive train control by the end of the year. Boardman, in public and on Amtrak’s blog, said the system will be in place on the Northeast Corridor by the end of this year.

Sumwalt on CBS said such as system would have prevented the May 12 accident.

Amtrak will also have to assess bends in the Northeast Corridor line where approach speed is significantly higher than the curve speed. The railroad must install technology to prevent speed-related derailments and report back to regulators.

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