Amtrak Northeast Trains Back on the Rails Monday

Amtrak Resumes Passenger Service
A conductor instructs passengers as they board the 5:53am train towards New York, in Philadelphia. Photographer: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Amtrak resumed Northeast Corridor passenger service on Monday, a day earlier than planned, after replacing and upgrading track in Philadelphia damaged in a fatal derailment last week.

Trains left New York’s Penn Station and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station starting about 6 a.m. Monday, with the Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other passenger trains rolling again over the nation’s busiest rail corridor.

Service was halted after a train traveling at twice the speed limit for a section of track near Philadelphia derailed on May 12, killing eight passengers and injuring more than 200 others. Federal regulators ordered Amtrak to immediately improve safety on its route between Washington and Boston.

“The folks at Amtrak have taken extraordinary measures over the last several days to not only clear the site but also to take these steps we’ve asked them to take,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.

Amtrak’s service resumed 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 the Federal Railroad Administration told Amtrak to expand the use of technology to control train speeds. Regulators also ordered Amtrak to analyze curves on its tracks along the northeast route and add additional speed limit signs for engineers and conductors.

Foxx said additional steps may be taken “in the next several days” to improve safety along the route.

“I promise you we are looking at the entire system and we’re not done yet,” Foxx said on MSNBC.

‘Grapefruit’ Size

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.

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.

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.

New Wrinkle

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.

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 is installing more advanced automatic-braking technology known as positive train control by the end of the year. Amtrak Chief Executive Officer Joseph 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 a 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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