CHESTER, Pennsylvania — The two railroad employees killed Sunday morning by Amtrak Train 89 make a total of four Amtrak-related fatalities in three years on the same section of railroad in Delaware County, Pa.
The deaths of the two men came after a train struck a backhoe and derailed in the middle of a wide-open stretch of track in southeastern Pennsylvania near the Delaware border. Last April 5, a man who Amtrak officials said was trespassing was struck and killed by a Washington, D.C.-bound train about 10 miles northeast in Sharon Hill, where in June 2014 a pedestrian died after being hit by another locomotive headed to the capital.
And Sunday’s derailment occurred less than a year after the deadly wreck in Philadelphia that left eight dead and more than 200 injured. The exact cause of that derailment has not been determined by investigators, who say the train was rounding a dangerous curve at twice the speed limit.
Chester Fire Commissioner Travis Thomas said the call for a “vehicle accident, a vehicle obstruction on the tracks” had come in Sunday at 8 a.m.
“We had 341 passengers on the train, 35 were hospitalized, non-life-threatening. We had two deceased, but they were not passengers on the train,” Thomas told reporters at a noon briefing outside a Methodist church, which had been commandeered by emergency personnel and the Red Cross as a staging area and temporary shelter for passengers on the derailed Amtrak Palmetto.
Delaware County Emergency Management and Amtrak Police had both parked their 40-foot mobile command vehicles in the church parking lot, behind which lay 100 yards of grassy field separating it from the train tracks.
“We have most of the situation under control now,” he said. “People are being rerouted back to Philadelphia. They will be reunited with their luggage.”
Thomas deferred further questions to Amtrak, which was represented on the scene by executive vice president Stephen Gardner.
But Gardner declined to answer any questions about the conditions of the collision or about the victims, saying, “The [National Transportation Safety Board] will be in charge of the investigation and will be providing all further information about the incident.”
NTSB investigator Ryan J. Frigo said at a press conference later in the evening that investigators had recovered the event recorder and forward- and inward-facing video from Train 89 and sent them to the board’s laboratory in Washington, D.C.
At a press conference in southwest Philadelphia Monday evening, Frigo said NTSB technicians at the laboratory in D.C. had examined the event recorder and all video from the train.
"The recorder data was of good quality and recorded up to the point of collision," said Frigo. "The engineer placed the train into emergency approximately five seconds from the end of the recording," at which time the train was traveling at 106 MPH. He said the speed limit where the collision occurred was 110 MPH.
The front-facing video showed that a backhoe was on the same track as Train 89, and that a Lomar work train, a rail-grinding vehicle, was on an adjacent track.
Frigo said the locomotive’s engineer was among those taken to the hospital and that NTSB investigators would be “looking at the track structure,” among other factors.
While Frigo would only confirm that one of the men killed was the operator of the backhoe, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he had been told by Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia that the other man was a supervisor. The men may have been conducting routine maintenance, a typical Sunday morning task, or clearing debris strewn on the tracks by overnight high winds, Schumer said, according to the AP.
The senator described a “20-step protocol” for operating heavy equipment such as a backhoe on the tracks and said no trains are supposed to run on the tracks when such equipment is present.
The Delaware County Medical Examiner’s Office told The Daily Beast that no official information would be available on the deceased victims until after autopsies were conducted on Monday.