After an Amtrak train crashed into a backhoe inexplicably blocking a rail line, investigators say a lot of things aren’t adding up. But one thing is clear: the construction workers killed in the accident made a “colossal” mistake.
Two people were killed in the accident on Sunday near Philadelphia. Among 341 passengers, 37 people were injured, CNN reported.
The dead are as Joseph Carter Jr., 61, backhoe operator; and Peter John Adamovich, 59, the supervisor, the New York Times reported. Both were Amtrak veterans; one of the men worked for the company for 40 years, the other for 20.
“They should have known better than to be on that track,” said rail safety expert Allan Zarembski.
The colossal mistake apparently committed by the two victims was performing routine maintenance with heavy equipment on an active rail line. According to Zarembski, Amtrak has a 12-step procedure governing construction work, so how Sunday’s accident happened is a mystery.
Critically, the engineer had no idea a work crew would be working on the line. The entire rail system is outfitted with a collision-prevention system known as positive train control that should’ve emitted warnings so it would slow automatically, explained Amtrak chief executive Joseph Boardman. But in a colossal mistake, that didn’t happen.
Construction crews also must get permission from railroad dispatchers to work on a track, a permission that ensures the construction area is out of service; red signals approaching the site are also activated.
When crews are working alongside an active rail, a flagman is supposed to be positioned down the track as well to warn workers with an air horn that a train is coming. That also didn’t happen — another colossal mistake.
Zarembski said crews are only allowed to work on active tracks with small or hand-held equipment and under no circumstances should heavy equipment ever be on live track.
“Maybe what happened was they were given permission to go on (an inactive) track, and maybe they made a mistake and went on the wrong (one).”
An investigation has begun but has already hinted that a colossal mistake — somewhere along the line — can be blamed for the fatal accident. The probe will try to figure out why the men were on the active tracks and if a colossal breakdown of procedure could’ve played a role.
On Sunday, Carter and Adamovich were on the tracks, replacing ballast using a backhoe. The backhoe was on the active line. According to the Associated Press, the Amtrak train was heading to Savannah, Georgia, from New York on Sunday when it hit the equipment in Chester, which is 15 miles outside Philadelphia. It was traveling at 106 mph when it slammed into the backhoe. The engineer only had a five-second warning to respond.
Passenger Steve Forbes said that the locomotive made “sudden jerks” like it was coming to a sudden stop.
“Everyone’s coffee was flying through the air,” he said. “The most disconcerting thing… (was) not knowing what had happened.”
Amtrak passengers were left in the dark about what had happened for 25 minutes, since the public address system had been knocked out. Passenger Cristine Starke described the crash as like an explosion.
“I think we crumbled under the pressure. There’s a hole, and it looks as if the train bent, and that was about 2 feet in front of me. It felt like an explosion. I ended up on the ground.”
“I looked outside, and it looked like we were in this brown cloud,” said Glen Hills, adding that he thinks the dust came from construction or high winds. “We were rolling into this storm, this sandstorm.”
[Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images]