An Amtrak train collided with an idle CSX freight train in Cayce, South Carolina in the early morning hours of Feb. 4, 2018. The crash—the fourth fatal Amtrak train incident in seven weeks—killed two train crew members and left more than 100 other people with injuries.
Amtrak Train 91 was on the Silver Star route carrying eight crew members and 139 passengers from New York City to Miami when it crashed at approximately 2:45 a.m. EST. The deceased has been identified as a 54-year-old engineer, Michael Kempf, of Savannah, Ga., and 36-year-old conductor, Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Fla. Kempf and Cella were both in the first car of the train when the collision occurred.
Most of the injuries reported were minor, though authorities said eight people remained hospitalized for more than a day after the South Carolina Amtrak train crash. Many passengers aboard Amtrak Train 91 were taken to a nearby middle school, which the American Red Cross set up as a temporary shelter.
Free Case Consultation with Experienced Train Accident Lawyer
The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman has represented train accident victims in numerous cases against Amtrak and other major rail operators. Baum Hedlund attorneys were retained to represent victims from the 2015 Amtrak derailment in north Philadelphia, a crash that shares several similarities with the Washington state Amtrak crash that occurred in December of 2017.
Our firm has been representing train crash victims since 1987. We are longtime advocates for train safety improvements, including Positive Train Control (PTC). If you or a loved one were harmed in the South Carolina Amtrak crash, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced train accident lawyer about your case.
For a free case evaluation, please fill out our contact form or call us today at (855) 948-5098.
What Caused the Amtrak and CSX Train Collision in South Carolina?
While a final report on the South Carolina Amtrak train crash is not expected to be released for a year or more, officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said a track switch locked in the wrong position diverted Amtrak Train 91 onto a side track where it collided with the CSX freight train.
According to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, it appears the CSX train crew did not flip the track switch back to the mainline setting after pulling the freight train onto a sidetrack. “The key to this investigation is learning why that switch was lined that way because the expectation was, of course, that the Amtrak train would be operating like this,” said Sumwalt as he pointed to a whiteboard showing the passenger train’s correct southbound direction.
The locked switch put Amtrak Train 91 on a collision course with the CSX freight train. Officials said engineer Michael Kempf sounded the horn three for three seconds and eventually hit the emergency brakes before Amtrak Train 91 slammed into the parked CSX train.
Another issue cited by investigators: the wayside signaling system in the area was inoperative due to maintenance and upgrades. “It’s our understanding that they were doing upgrades to the signal system to get it ready for positive train control,” Sumwalt said following the South Carolina crash.
Sumwalt added that if the signal system was functioning properly, it would have alerted the train crew to the position of the switch.
Amtrak Train 91 Passengers Speak Out
Passenger Samuel Rodriguez of Brooklyn, New York was seated next to his mother when the crash happened.
“It just started shaking, you could actually feel the cars hitting the back of our train…Smoke. Screaming. I went to pick up one kid, checked my mother out to see if she was all right…That’s when I went between aisles, and I saw a kid bleeding all over, his skull was showing, and his mother was in shock.”
Rodriguez’s mother sustained a broken nose and an injury to her leg. She was hospitalized then later released.
Passenger Sherry Call of Jacksonville, Florida was knocked to the ground upon impact. She suffered injuries to her head, neck, and leg.
“I had just come out of the restroom when I felt it…Sounded like somebody shredding aluminum cans. It was terrifying.”
Several 911 calls were released to the media in the aftermath of the crash. One woman described to a dispatcher how dire scene was.
“There’s babies with their heads busted wide open, bleeding…Everybody flew to the front of the train. … Everything is everywhere.”
Could Positive Train Control Have Prevented the Silver Star Amtrak Crash in Cayce, SC?
“An operational PTC system is designed to prevent this kind of accident.” – Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board
Positive Train Control (PTC) is an advanced system designed to prevent human error from causing train accidents, by using GPS, radar, track sensors, and computers to automatically control trains.
The NTSB has been pushing for Positive Train Control (PTC) since 1969. In 2008, Congress passed the Rail Safety Improvement Act (RSIA) following a deadly crash in California that killed 25 people. The bill set a deadline of 2015 for American railroads to implement PTC. That deadline has come and gone, as aggressive lobbying from the rail industry pushed back the PTC implementation deadline.
“How many more lives need to be lost? How many people need to suffer physical injury and extreme mental distress, and how many families need to be torn apart by the anguish that follows every railroad disaster – before we realize that Amtrak gives only lip service to safety,” says train accident attorney Ron L.M. Goldman.
“Passenger service by rail should be among the safest forms of travel, yet somehow Amtrak has made it deadly. We need to raise the alarm that safety must be elevated to a genuine primary goal and that those in charge must be held accountable.”
Most Recent Amtrak Train Accidents That Could Have Been Prevented if PTC Had Been Implemented
- Three Dead, Dozens Injured in Washington Amtrak Derailment (Dec. 18, 2017) – Amtrak Train 501 was going roughly 50 mph above the posted speed limit when it derailed and crashed onto Interstate 5 outside of Tacoma. NTSB board member T. Bella Dinh-Zarr told the media that “PTC would prevent types of accidents such as this.”
- Eight Dead, More Than 200 Others Injured in Philadelphia Amtrak Train Crash (May 12, 2015)– An Amtrak train bound for New York was going 100 mph in a 50 mph zone when it derailed at a curve and crashed. In the wake of the crash, Robert Sumwalt stated the Philadelphia Amtrak crash “would not have occurred” if PTC had been installed.
South Carolina Amtrak Train Crash Updates
A recent report issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) estimates that as many as two-thirds of all U.S. passenger railroads are in danger of missing the looming deadline to install positive train control (PTC). The report drew the ire of several senators on a Senate Commerce Committee oversight panel, including the chair, Senator John Thune (R-SC).
“If railroads do not comply with the law by the year’s end,” regulators should “take the enforcement action needed to bring railroads into compliance,” Senator Thune said at a hearing on Thursday.
Railroads transporting passengers or hazardous materials must implement PTC by the end of 2018. If they fail to install PTC or are not granted an extension, railroads can be penalized by the FRA.
Since Congress mandated the implementation of PTC back in 2008, the deadline to implement the technology has been repeatedly pushed back due to lobbying efforts by the railroads and capitulations by lawmakers.
The NTSB has long called for the implementation of PTC. Numerous train accidents, including the derailments in South Carolina and Washington State, could have been avoided if PTC had been installed.
The NTSB issued its preliminary report on the Amtrak Train 91 crash near Cayce, South Carolina. The report mirrored a safety recommendation the agency issued more than two weeks ago calling for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to issue an emergency order providing instructions for rail operators to implement when signal systems are not in operation and a switch is relined for the main track.
Below are some of the NTSB’s preliminary findings:
- Between the train’s last stop and the accident, the train’s maximum recorded speed was 57 mph, two mph below the limit allowed under signal suspension rules.
- Roughly seven seconds before impact, the train was going 56 mph. The horn was activated for three seconds.
- Two seconds later, the brake pipe pressure began decreasing.
- In the following second, the throttle moved from full to idle. The train was going 54 mph.
- The engineer hit the emergency brake one second later. The train was going 53 mph.
- The recording ceased two seconds later as the air braking system approached maximum braking effort. The train was going 50 mph.
The CSX freight crew was still on the scene when the accident occurred. An engineer was forced to run to safely avoid the Amtrak train as it hurtled toward him.
The NTSB issued new rail safety recommendations today in response to several rail accidents, including two Amtrak crashes in South Carolina and Washington state. Officials with the safety board expressed concern that railroad management “is overlooking, and, therefore, normalizing noncompliance.”
NTSB officials have asked the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to generate speed restrictions for trains passing through areas in which signaling systems are not in use. In the South Carolina crash, CSX workers failed to restore a track switch allowing trains to continue on the main track. CSX had also suspended its signaling system so workers could install PTC equipment.
Officials recalled a similar train accident in 2016 involving two freight trains in Wyoming. Like the South Carolina incident this month, the 2016 crash in Wyoming involved the suspension of a signaling system so that workers could install PTC equipment.
Christine Cella, the wife of the Amtrak conductor who was killed in the Feb. 4, 2018, South Carolina Amtrak train crash, filed a lawsuit today against Amtrak and CSX Transportation Inc. The lawsuit sites dozens of specific instances of negligence against both CSX and Amtrak, faulting both for failing to discover or warn Amtrak Train 91 crew members about the disabled signal system and the track switch.
Ms. Cella’s lawsuit represents the second filed today against CSX and Amtrak. The other was filed by an Amtrak passenger who alleges the crash was caused by “gross negligence” and “reckless disregard” for train safety standards.
Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson will testify before a U.S. House of Representatives panel on Feb. 15, 2018, to discuss the implementation of positive train control (PTC), technology the NTSB says could have prevented deadly derailments in Washington and South Carolina.
In November of 2017, the NTSB criticized Amtrak for establishing a “weak safety culture.” Amtrak has been involved in three high-profile train accidents since December of 2017, two of which resulted in fatalities.
Richard Anderson took over as co-CEO of Amtrak last year then became the sole CEO of the railroad last month. He is scheduled to appear before a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panel along with officials from federal agencies, private rail operators, public transit, and labor to discuss the implementation of PTC.