Misaligned switch cause fatal train crash in Cayce

Robert Sumwalt- NTSB photo

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt was in Cayce Sunday to begin the federal investigation into the train crash that resulted in the death of two Amtrak employees in the earlier hours of that day.

Sumwalt, at a Sunday press conference, said a train track switch was in the wrong position and that allowed for the path of an Amtrak train to be diverted into a stationary CSX freight train. The collision also resulted in the injury of 116 others.
Sumwalt said the switch was supposed to allow the Amtrak train to continue traveling on the main track it was on. Instead, the train was channeled to a side track where the empty CSX train, with two engines and 134 cars, was parked. The Amtrak train had an engine and seven passenger cars.

“For whatever reason, the switch was lined and locked, aligned for the train to be diverted into the” side track,” Sumwalt said. “Key to this investigation is learning why it was lined that way.” He described the damage to the train cars impacted as “catastrophic.”
Sumwalt said the team of NTSB investigators will look at video from a train (dashboard-type) camera and get the black boxes (event data recorders) of both trains to use in the investigation. He said the goal is to determine the cause of the accident in an effort to prevent future accidents.

The investigation team arrived around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, and will be on the site five-to-seven days, said Sumwalt. A rail expert is expected to join the team Monday. Sumwalt said the first part of the mission is to preserve all perishable evidence.

The team will examine employee records, company procedures, mechanical condition of the train, and cell phone records. Medical conditions of crew members, work-rest records and drug and alcohol testing will also be conducted.

Sumwalt said the team will also look at the track’s signal system. He said investigators will look to see if signals were undergoing maintenance at the time of the crash.
The NTSB also has staff to assist the families of the crash victims.

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