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Two Dead After Amtrak Train Hits Backhoe and Partially Derails Near Philadelphia

Authorities said the two deceased were not passengers aboard the train, which was traveling from New York to Georgia when it struck a piece of construction machinery.

by Reuters and VICE News
Apr 3 2016, 5:05pm

Emergency vehicles and staff gather at the site where Amtrak's Palmetto Train 89 collided with a backhoe in Chester, Pennsylvania on April 3, 2016. (Photo by Tracie Van Auken/EPA)

Two people were killed and 35 injured when an Amtrak locomotive struck a piece of heavy construction machinery and partially derailed on Sunday in Chester, Pennsylvania, about 15 miles southwest of Philadelphia.

Chester Fire Commissioner Travis Thomas said the two deceased were not passengers aboard the train, but would not give further details. According to the Associated Press, New York Senator Chuck Schumer told reporters at a news conference unrelated to the crash that Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia informed him that two Amtrak workers — the backhoe operator and a supervisor — were killed. Schumer also reportedly said that the passengers were injured when debris from the crash flew into the train's first two cars.

According to Schumer, it's unclear whether the backhoe was on the tracks to perform regular maintenance, or if it was being used to clear debris left overnight by heavy winds in the area. The AP reported that Schumer said Amtrak has "a 20-step protocol" for having backhoes on its tracks, and that no trains aren't supposed to run on tracks where the machinery is in use. The news agency said Amtrak typically schedules backhoe work on weekends when fewer trains are running.

Palmetto Train 89, which was carrying 341 passengers and seven crew members, was on its way from New York to Savannah, Georgia when it reportedly hit a backhoe that was parked on or near the tracks. Amtrak said it was suspending Northeast Corridor service between Philadelphia and New York because of the incident.

Related: Baltimore, Wilmington, Philly, and Newark — Inside the Forgotten Corridor

"We were on the train and everything was going smoothly and then we got right outside Philadelphia," said Linton Holmes, a passenger who was on his way to his home to Wilson, North Carolina from Philadelphia. "Then we just heard like, it just, the train was like rumbling and then we got off track I guess. And then it was just a bunch of dust. Just dust everywhere and the train conductors were running to the front."

"We got off track and then it was like a big explosion and then there was a fire and then the windows burst out and then some people were cut up but it was like minor injuries," he added.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident, and officials with the Federal Railroad Administration were also sent to the scene, according to the AP.

In March, about three dozen people were injured when an Amtrak passenger train derailed in Kansas. The latest derailment comes almost a year after an Amtrak train travelling from Washington, DC to New York City derailed near Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring 200. Authorities have said the train was traveling at twice the speed limit in the May 12, 2015 crash, but the cause of the incident remains under investigation.

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