The Amtrak train derailment this week near Philadelphia was at least the eighth derailment this year in North America and appears to have been preventable.
The train’s data recorders, the equivalent of an airline black box, have been recovered and shed light on how the accident occurred. It now is believed that the train was speeding at 106 mph. The Federal Railroad Administration has reported that the maximum speed limit on the curve where the derailment occurred is 50 mph, while the speed just before the curve is 70 mph. Media reports have some surviving passengers stating they felt the train was going too fast when entering the curve, and that it felt as if the train’s brakes were slammed on just before the derailment happened.
Rescue crews continue to search through wreckage for victims as investigators have arrived at the scene to analyze how the 238 passenger train came off its tracks, injuring more than 200 passengers on board. At least seven persons have been reported killed.
Several passengers have been unaccounted for, raising hopes that they may have missed their boarding or just failed to report to police and fire rescue crews before leaving the scene.
The span of railroad track where the Amtrak derailment occurred is not equipped with a positive train control (PTC) automated speed control system. Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB told reporters today that, “We feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”
The area where the wreck occurred, known as Frankford Junction, is close to the site of a derailment of the Congressional Limited which killed 79 people in 1943.
The passenger train lines between Washington and Boston serve nearly 12 million passengers a year, with more than 2,000 trains running on at least some part of the Washington-to-Boston corridor daily.