CHESTER, Pa. (CBSNewYork/CBS Philly) — Two Amtrak workers were killed and dozens more people were injured Sunday, when an Amtrak train from New York struck a backhoe and partially derailed in southeast Pennsylvania.
Palmetto train No. 89, which had been headed from Penn Station to Savannah, Georgia, struck a backhoe that was on the tracks in Chester, south of Philadelphia, Amtrak said.
Officials said they were still gathering facts as of late Sunday evening and that they have recovered event data from the recorder and inward facing video from the locomotive to send to a laboratory in Washington, D.C.
There were approximately 341 passengers and seven crew members on the train, officials said.
Delaware County, Pennsylvania officials have confirmed that two people were killed in the crash. Both were Amtrak employees and were part of the crew operating the backhoe, officials said.
“We just thought it would be a slight thing and we were going to be back moving. Then they told us somebody died,” said a young man who had been on the train.
“It felt like an accident at impact. It was a rough ride. It took a long time to stop. And all you could see was a lot of dirt and debris flying past the train,” passenger Beth Blakely told CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez.
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Chester Fire Commissioner Travis Thomas reported that 35 people were taken to area hospitals, none with life-threatening injuries.
Amtrak declined to comment why the backhoe was on the active track. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking to determine if the accident was caused by human error.
The train was traveling at a fast rate when it hit the construction vehicle, 1010 WINS’ Steve Kastenbaum reported. It took a mile for the train to finally come to a stop.
“There were some people that were pretty bloody,” one passenger told 1010 WINS.
Limited service between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia resumed Sunday afternoon after being suspended for several hours. Service between Philadelphia and New York had resumed by noon, and Keystone Service trains between New York and Harrisburg were not affected.
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U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters at a New York news conference on another subject Sunday that he was told by Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia that the workers killed were the backhoe operator and a supervisor. He said debris from the crash flew into the first two cars, causing the injuries to passengers. Schumer said it was highly likely that human error was to blame.
He said he suspects “the protocols Amtrak has used in the past, which is a 20-step protocol before anyone can be on a track, were not followed,” and that “it seems highly, highly likely this was human error.”
Schumer said the derailment suggests Amtrak may need to reexamine its safety procedures, WCBS 880’s Stephanie Colombini reported.
Meanwhile at Penn Station, the service disruptions combined with complaints about a lack of information to leave commuters frustrated.
“You can call, they don’t say anything. You can go to customer service, they don’t say anything. They say nothing. Useless, totally useless,” one commuter told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern. “It’s just like being stuck at an airport, but it’s even worse though because it’s even s****ier service.”
Passengers only knew at the time that service to Philadelphia was suspended, while northbound service to Boston was also delayed.
Neither of the victims have been identified.
Service on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Philadelphia is supposed to be back to normal Monday morning with minor delays.