Feds issue first report on Chester Amtrak crash

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Emergency personnel examine the scene after an Amtrak passenger train struck a backhoe, killing two people, in Chester, Pennsylvania, April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

A preliminary report on last month’s fatal train crash in Chester offered new details, but few answers on how safety precautions on the rail failed, leading to the deaths of two rail workers

The report came from the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency investigating the circumstances surrounding an Amtrak train’s April 3 collision with a backhoe on the tracks.

According to the report, the backhoe was being used in a 55-hour maintenance cycle scheduled to clean the rocks on the rail bed and clear mud spots from April 1 to 4. Amtrak controls four separate tracks in the area just south of Highland Avenue Station in Chester and the maintenance crew was working on track 2 that Sunday morning. Track 2 had been removed from service entirely, and tracks 1, 3 and 4 were granted intermittent foul time, a designation that should ensure protection for workers on tracks, to accomodate the backhoe. Yet train 89, traveling from New York City to Savannah, Ga., was routed onto track 3, where it slammed into the backhoe.

If foul time had been properly in place, experts have said, it should have been impossible to route a train onto that track. Workers also have safety equipment that, if used, would have alerted train operators to an obstacle on the track. The engineer told the NTSB he hit the brakes only after “seeing something,” on track 3 immediately prior to the crash.

Sources with knowledge of the incident have pointed to communications failures during a shift change as a major contributor to the crash.

The NTSB document cited 41 injuries in the crash, more than had previously been reported. The backhoe operator, Joe Carter, and a supervisor, Peter Adamovich, both veteran Amtrak workers, were killed. Amtrak estimated damages of $2.2 million.

The preliminary report is the first in a series of documents the NTSB will release during the next year as part of the review into what caused the crash.