Updated at 5:35 pm.
Amtrak and the National Transportation Safety Board remain mum on the cause of a crash Sunday morning that reportedly killed two maintenance workers and sent dozens to an area hospital.
Just before 8 am this morning, Amtrak’s Palmetto line — Train 89, operating from New York to Savannah, Ga. — hit a maintenance vehicle on the tracks south of Philadelphia, causing the lead engine to derail in Chester. Two people, those operating the heavy maintenance equipment (described in early reports as a “backhoe”), have died.
Amtrak executive vice president Stephen Gardner spoke at a press conference at the crash site, followed this afternoon by NTSB spokesman Ryan Frigo, but details have been scarce.
What we know:
- Two Amtrak employees — reportedly on the maintenance vehicle, not on the derailed train — have died; Amtrak has not confirmed the deaths but a spokesperson for the mayor of Chester did
- There were 330 passengers and 7 crew members on board the train when it derailed
- A total of 31 people — 30 passengers, and the locomotive’s engineer — were hospitalized, and there were no passenger deaths
- The NTSB has recovered the event data recorder (the train’s “black box”) as well as forward-facing and inward-facing video recorders. These are being sent to a laboratory in Washington, D.C.
- Passengers on the train reported seeing a large fireball on impact
- Passengers on the crashed train were transported to Philly via buses
- Service was suspended between Wilmington and Philadelphia from the time of the crash until around 2:30 PM
- People with questions about friends and family should call Amtrak’s Emergency Hotline at 800-532-9101
- Amtrak has not yet addressed what the backhoe was doing on the track; SEPTA did get a notification about track maintenance but was told it wouldn’t cause any disruption in service. The NTSB called the backhoe “heavy equipment” in its brief afternoon press conference, with Frigo saying only that “as part of our investigation, we will be looking at the track structure and the work that was performed at the time of the accident.”
- SEPTA suspended service to Newark
- Uber turned off surge pricing and is encouraging drivers to head to the area
- Forbes Media chairman (and onetime presidential candidate) Steve Forbes was a passenger on the train; he is unhurt.
- The fire commissioner of Chester, Travis Thomas, said he was not aware of any routine maintenance going on at the tracks.
What we don’t:
- The identities of those who died. (NBC is reporting that both are Amtrak employees; a Fox 29 reporter, citing a source, said both were working on the maintenance vehicle.)
- Why the maintenance vehicle was on the tracks / in the way
- How fast the train was going
- Whether the high winds of the morning storm had anything to do with it.