An Amtrak train travelling at 50 miles per hour collided with a stationary freight train after it inadvertently diverted to a side track, killing two Amtrak employees and injuring more than 100 people in South Carolina.
The accident, which occurred around 2:35 a.m. on Sunday, resulted from the passenger train getting diverted in to a side track where a CSX freight train was parked. The Amtrak train travelled 659 feet on the wrong tracks before colliding head-on with the freight train.
According to National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt, who revealed details found during the initial stages of the investigation, the passenger train sounded its horn and slammed on its emergency break before the crash.
Based on the event data recorder recovered from the wreckage, the train was travelling at 56 miles per hour, which is below the 59 miles per hour speed limit. Breaks were applied by the train a few seconds before the crash, and by the time the recording had ended, the train’s speed had gone down to 50 miles per hour.
“I will say, that an engineer, part of his duties, is as they’re going down the track, is to look at the switch points, to see which way this is lined,” said Sumwalt. “And if an engineer saw that switch is lined for something other than it should be, they should notice that.”
Sumwalt also said that positive train control could have prevented the accident. Positive train control is a GPS-based safety system that can automatically slow or stop trains.
The Amtrak 91 train was on its way to Miami, and should have continued on its path, if not for the rail switch that had been manually set to divert the train to the side track. Authorities are still investigating why the rail switch had been aligned that way.