Derailed Amtrak train was going 100 mph on sharp curve

Emergency workers look through the remains of a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 13, 2015. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
The Amtrak train that derailed outside Philadelphia on Tuesday was going too fast, taking a sharp curve at over 100mph, according to investigators. Engineer had to apply full emergency brake before the crash that killed seven people and injured over 200.

Amtrak and police officials stand near a derailed Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 13, 2015. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Wednesday that a preliminary investigation suggests the train was traveling at greater than 100 miles per hour—or twice the speed limit—before it hit a sharp turn and jumped the track at about 9:30pm local time the night before.

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt told reporters that the train was travelling at the speed of 106 mph when it approached the curve with the speed limit of 50 mph. The speed fell to 102 mph in the next few seconds before the crash.

"Just moments before the derailment, the train was placed into engineer-induced braking, and this means that the engineer applied full emergency brake applications," Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt said investigators had not yet talked to the engineer because he had “just been through a traumatic event” and so they would give him a "day or two" to convalesce.

“We are here to collect perishable evidence, which is that information that will go away with the passage of time,” he told reporters at an afternoon press conference, refusing to speculate on specific causes. NTSB has not looked at any information that is not considered “perishable,” such as the engineer’s employment records, Sumwalt added.

Rail curve where Amtrak train derailed Tuesday evening.

NTSB has been calling for “positive train control” in that section of track for many years, Sumwalt said. Congress has mandated that it be installed by the end of this year.

“If it had been installed here already, we are confident that this derailment would not have occurred,” he added.

Emergency personnel and members of the Philadelphia Fire Department investigate the scene of a train accident in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in this handout photo provided by the Philadelphia Fire Department, May 13, 2015. (Reuters/Philadelphia Fire Department/Handout)

Rescue workers are still searching through the wreckage of Amtrak train number 188. Seven people have been confirmed dead, and more than 200 have been treated for injuries at Philadelphia hospitals. The authorities have not yet accounted for all 243 people on board.

“We have made really good progress in accounting for the majority of individuals, but we still have folks that we’d like to hear from,” said Sam Phillips, the city’s director of emergency management.

Mayor Nutter added that he spoke with President Obama on Wednesday and said “the response, at the federal level, has been tremendous.”

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Nutter and Phillips were joined at Wednesday afternoon’s press conference by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania). Commenting on the tragedy after being given a tour of the crash site, Senator Toomey described the scene as “horrific and heartbreaking.”

Vice President Joe Biden, who took more than 8,000 Amtrak trips while representing Delaware in the US Senate, said he was “deeply saddened” by the tragedy.

“Amtrak is like a second family to me, as it is for so many other passengers," Biden said in a statement. “For my entire career, I’ve made the trip from Wilmington to Washington and back. I’ve come to know the conductors, engineers and other regulars – men and women riding home to kiss their kids goodnight – as we passed the flickering lights of each neighborhood along the way.”

Passenger rail services along the Northeast Corridor, the busiest in the US with 12 million passengers a year, remain on hold. Commuter rail services that share Amtrak’s tracks in the Philadelphia area have also been suspended.