NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Amtrak trains began rolling on the busy Northeast Corridor early Monday, the first time in almost a week following a deadly crash in Philadelphia, and officials vowed to have safer trains and tracks while investigators worked to determine the cause of the derailment.
Amtrak resumed service along the corridor with a 5:30 a.m. southbound train leaving New York City. The first northbound train, scheduled to leave Philadelphia at 5:53 a.m., was delayed and pulled out of 30th Street Station at 6:07 a.m. Both trains arrived at their destinations about 30 minutes behind schedule.
An Amtrak spokesperson told CBS2 the delay was due in part to the train’s engineer traveling very slowly around the bend of track where the derailment occurred.
“It was a little late, but we made it,” passenger Gia McNair told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell.
“I was a little bit nervous jumping on the first train but everything was great,” Shane Brody told CBS2’s Emily Smith, adding that he would be returning later in the day on the same route.
About three dozen passengers boarded the New York City-bound train in Philadelphia, and Mayor Michael Nutter was on hand to see the passengers and train off.
“It’s great to be back,” said Christian Milton of Philadelphia. “I’ve never had any real problems with Amtrak. I’ve been traveling it for over 10 years. There’s one accident in 10 years. Something invariably is going to happen somewhere along the lines. I’m not worried about it.”
“It was a great ride,” said passenger Patrick Okpunweu after arriving at Penn Station. “No problem at all.”
All Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other services were to also resume.
Amtrak officials said Sunday that trains along the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston would resume service in “complete compliance” with federal safety orders following last week’s deadly derailment.
Company President Joseph Boardman said Amtrak staff and crew have been working around the clock to restore service following Tuesday night’s crash that killed eight people and injured more than 200 others.
Boardman said Sunday that Amtrak would be offering a “safer service.”
At Penn Station early Monday, police with a pair of dogs flanked the escalator as a smattering of passengers showed their tickets to a broadly smilig Amtrak agent and headed down to the platform.
A sign outside the train flashed “All Aboard” in red letters.
The conductor gave a broad all-clear wave, stepped inside and the train glided out of the station at 5:30 a.m.
Passenger Raphael Kelly, of New York, looking relaxed, said he was “feeling fine” and had “no worries.”
Kelly, who takes Amtrak to Philadelphia weekly, said with a smile that if he did have any concerns, “I have to get over it.”
Kelly said that if anything, the train might be safer than ever.
“They’re on their toes” because of the crash, he said.
Passenger Sarah Flynn also boarded the train without hesitation.
“I know how many millions of passengers it carries each year and with how few accidents there are, I feel like it’s definitely safer than driving and I’m not going to think twice about getting on it,” she told 1010 WINS’ John Montone.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, there were only about 50 people aboard the first train out of Penn Station, maybe because so many didn’t expect Amtrak to be running Monday.
“Bought a Delta ticket for $1,300,” one passenger, Andrew, said. “Canceled that last night.”
Amtrak said crews worked around the clock to make repairs and closely followed federal regulations.
Many of the regular commuters departing from Penn Station expressed their confidence in the railroad.
“Got an email from CEO of Amtrak saying they would do everything they could to make sure passengers from New York and Philadelphia would be safe riding Amtrak today,” said David Hajjar.
“I’ve taken that train 13 times this year, but excited to get back to a normal routine,” said Andrew Hermalyn.
— John Montone1010WINS (@1010WINSMontone) May 18, 2015
At a service Sunday evening at the site to honor the crash victims, Boardman choked up as he called Tuesday “the worst day for me as a transportation professional.” He vowed that the wrecked train and its passengers “will never be forgotten.”
SAFETY MEASURES BEING TAKEN
Federal regulators on Saturday ordered Amtrak to expand use of a speed-control system long in effect for southbound trains near the crash site to northbound trains in the same area.
Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Kevin Thompson said Sunday the automatic train control system is now fully operational on the northbound tracks. Trains going through that section of track will be governed by the system, which alerts engineers to slow down when their trains go too fast and automatically applies the brakes if the train continues to speed.
“To have so much riding on one human being — I’m surprised we don’t have those systems in place already,” said passenger Arya Alizadah. “Planes already fly themselves. Why can’t we put those systems in trains as well?”
The FRA also ordered Amtrak to examine all curves along the Northeast Corridor and determine if more can be done to improve safety, and to add more speed limit signs along the route.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told the 150 people present at Sunday’s service that Amtrak’s action on the ordered changes was one way to honor the eight passengers killed in the crash. Many were riding home to their families, he said.
“Their memories forever in our minds will fuel our work to make intercity passenger rail and our entire network in the United States stronger and safer,” he said.
Almost 20 people injured in the train crash remain in Philadelphia hospitals, five in critical condition. All are expected to survive.
INVESTIGATORS EYE ACCELERATION
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, meanwhile, have focused on the acceleration of the train as it approached the curve, finally reaching 106 mph as it entered the 50-mph stretch north of central Philadelphia, and only managing to slow down slightly before the crash.
“The only way that an operable train can accelerate would be if the engineer pushed the throttle forward. And — the event recorder does record throttle movement. We will be looking at that to see if that corresponds to the increase in the speed of the train,” board member Robert Sumwalt told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The Amtrak engineer, who was among those injured in the crash, has told authorities that he does not recall anything in the few minutes before it happened. Characterizing engineer Brandon Bostian as extremely safety conscious, a close friend said he believed reports of something striking the windshield were proof that the crash was “not his fault.”
“He’s the one you’d want to be your engineer. There’s none safer,” James Weir of Burlison, Tennessee, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Sunday.
Investigators also have been looking into reports that the windshield of the train may have been struck by some sort of object, but Sumwalt said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program Sunday that he wanted to “downplay” the idea that damage to the windshield might have come from someone firing a shot at the train.
“I’ve seen the fracture pattern; it looks like something about the size of a grapefruit, if you will, and it did not even penetrate the entire windshield,” Sumwalt said.
Officials said an assistant conductor on the derailed train said she heard the Amtrak engineer talking with a regional train engineer and both said their trains had been hit by objects. But Sumwalt said the regional train engineer recalls no such conversation, and investigators had listened to the dispatch tape and heard no communications from the Amtrak engineer to the dispatch center to say that something had struck the train.
OBAMA PAYS RESPECTS
President Barack Obama paused in Philadelphia to thank the city and its rescue workers for their response to the Amtrak derailment.
Obama arrived aboard Air Force One and stopped briefly to talk and shake hands with Nutter and other city officials at Philadelphia International Airport. He then boarded a Marine helicopter bound for Camden, New Jersey, where he planned to make a speech about improving local policing.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz says the visit was planned to thank fire, police and other emergency officials for their quick action to save lives and treat the wounded after last week’s fatal train wreck.
A conductor who was badly injured in the first car is suing Amtrak, alleging negligence in the operation of the train, 1010 WINS’ Rebecca Granet reported.
Emilio Fonseca’s attorney says his client’s injuries will affect his health and career.
“He suffered serious head trauma, multiple broken bones in his back, his neck and his arm,” lawyer Bruce Nagel said.
Fonseca, of Kearny, New Jersey, is hospitalized in Philadelphia and won’t be discharged for the forseeable future, Nagel added.
“He was an employee on the train,” the attorney said. “He was a victim like all of the others. It is a tragedy.”
Funerals were being held Monday for three of the victims.
In Queens, real estate executive Laura Finamore, 47, was being remembered as someone who was “full of love” and “very expressive.”
Meanwhile in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, the funeral was held for Rachel Jacobs, a 39-year-old educational software startup chief executive killed in the crash.
Jessica Steinhart says her sister was her “role model … confidant … best friend” and “a hard act to follow.”
A funeral was also being held Monday in Holmdel, New Jersey, for Bob Gildersleeve, 45, of Elkridge, Maryland. Gildersleeve, who was vice president of a food-safety company called Ecolab, was originally from Monmouth County.
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