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190 Amtrak Passengers, 12 Crew Survive Derailment

Aired July 29, 2002 - 15:34   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: If you are just tuning in, for the past hour or so, we have been following the train derailment in Kensington, Maryland.

This Amtrak train was heading from Chicago, Illinois. The train left about 7:00 p.m. last night. It was supposed to arrive in Washington, D.C. at 1:45 this afternoon. This is the route, heading from Chicago to D.C. But this is where the train stopped. It derailed in Kensington, Maryland. It's about 10 minutes from Washington, D.C. We do have a reporter. Our Jeanne Meserve is en route to the scene. As soon as we can get her up live, we will.

But right now, this is what I can tell you: so far no fatalities, but a number of critically injured passengers and dozens and dozens of survivors; 190 people were on board this people, 12 crew members. We had talked to a survivor. As a matter of fact, we'll try and rerack that interview with a woman with whom I spoke not long ago about how she and her 13-year-old daughter escaped out of the emergency window, incredibly, unscathed. She had a pretty harrowing account of what happened.

But, nevertheless, she did escape. It was great news. A number of other people have escaped -- but right now, fire crews and emergency crews trying to secure the situation, trying to get out -- or get the injured out of these passenger cars. They are treating the injured there on the scene.

We have that interview now that I had with Paula not long ago. This is one of the individuals that escaped out of the emergency window just when the train derailed.

Let's take a listen.


PAULA, PASSENGER: We were in the second car behind -- or third car behind the engine. We were in the upper deck in a sleeping car.

Suddenly the train started to lurch and started to fall off the tracks. We landed on our side. We had a little bit of trouble getting out of our sleeping berth, because it was on the ground, and then climbing to the upper part of the train and climbing down. The last cars in the train are the coach cars. And they are having a little more difficult of a time, because they are in a very wooded area of this section of the residential area.


PHILLIPS: Once again, that's Paula. She was on that train heading from Chicago to Washington, D.C. She and her 13-year-old daughter escaped that train derailment. As soon as their car overturned, 11 cars overturned. She and her daughter and the other people in her car were able to push out the emergency window and get out alive.

A number of people have the same story. Unfortunately, there are still people trapped inside some of those cars, rescue crews trying to get the injured out and trying to treat the injured, either there in the car or get them out. And they are treating them on site.

If you are just tuning in, you are watching a train derailment, a train leaving Chicago. If left Chicago last night at 7:00 p.m. It was supposed to arrive at D.C. about 1:45 Eastern time. Ten minutes before it was supposed to arrive, this is what happened. We have been discussing a number of scenarios of what possibly could have gone wrong.

Now we are joined by Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB. He's joining us live from Washington, D.C.

Peter, thanks for being with us.


PHILLIPS: First of all, I'll just ask you directly. I was talking with a former inspector general from the Department of Transportation. I was also talking to a former Amtrak engineer about the issue of what could have possibly gone wrong here and the issue of the heat causing tracks to buckle.

How common is that? How common of a problem is that in warm weather like this?

GOELZ: Well, it's not uncommon. And that would certainly be one of the first things you would look for.

The NTSB will have launched a team by now to go out to the site. They will be setting up in groups that will investigates the signalization, the track condition, the condition of the bed in which the track was running on. They will download the information from the event recorder in the lead engine. And I think they will be able to get to the bottom of this fairly quickly.

PHILLIPS: Why do you say fairly quickly?

GOELZ: Well, because these kinds of accidents, the NTSB does very well with. They have an extensive metallurgical lab. They will pull the rails off, get them back to the labs, and get a look and see whether there was any signs of heat fatigue, whether they were worn, whether they had a flattened head that might have contributed to the accident. When I was at the NTSB, there were accidents that appeared to have kind of similar indications. Batavia, New York, in August, I think about six, seven years ago, an Amtrak train went off. And it was a hot day. But it was a worn rail that contributed to that accident.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's talk about the conditions of these tracks. CSX is the company in charge of taking care of these tracks and making sure everything is running safely. Is that correct?

GOELZ: That's correct.

PHILLIPS: OK. So, tell me how often CSX inspectors inspect these tracks.

GOELZ: Well, I mean, they could do it as often as once a day, particularly during the summer months.

And they use a variety of tools. Some of it is just a visual inspection. Sometimes they do ultrasonic inspections to see whether the track has been worn. That's one of the things that the NTSB will go back and check and see whether the inspection of the track coincided with the Federal Railway Administration requirements.

PHILLIPS: What kind of inspection mechanisms are -- are there any attached to the tracks? Kind of give me -- I know I'm getting a little technical here. But I was taking notes from a former inspector general up in the DOT with whom I was speaking. And she was telling me about these inspection mechanisms.

GOELZ: Well, they have a variety of devices that they can use.

Some are individual devices that travel over the tracks with individuals who are operating them. Say they do visual inspections. They do ultrasonic inspections. And particularly during the summer months, these tracks are inspected on a fairly regular basis.

PHILLIPS: Do there need to be more inspections, do you think? You are a former director of the NTSB. Did you find, as you investigated a number of these derailments, that indeed there should have been more inspections, there were -- there was -- well, that there just should have been more?

GOELZ: The NTSB made a number of recommendations over the years.

And, in the rail division, I would say about 80 percent -- a little more than 80 percent of our recommendations were actually accepted by the various parties. And more sophisticated investigations of the rails were included, following, I think, the Batavia accident and a second accident. And I believe that these recommendations were closed acceptable. So the people acted on them.

PHILLIPS: Peter Goelz, former managing director of the NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board, the organization that sends out teams to scenes like this to investigate indeed what went wrong. If you are just tuning in -- Peter, thank you very much -- we are bringing breaking news to you live from Kensington, Maryland. This is an Amtrak train that derailed. We have been talking about this for a little over an hour now. It left Chicago, Illinois, 7:00 p.m. last night. It was supposed to arrive in Washington, D.C. at 1:45 Eastern time. It derailed here in Kensington, just 10 minutes before reaching its destination.

Right now we are told no fatalities; however, a number of people critically injured, 190 people aboard this train, 11 cars, passenger cars overturned, rescue crews on the scene now, trying desperately to get those injured passengers out of these overturned passenger cars -- a number of people heroically escaping and helping other people escape through the emergency windows as soon as this train derailed.

Once again, the Amtrak hot line: 1-800-523-9101; Amtrak hot line: 1-800-523-9101. If you are a family member and you have questions about train No. 30 that left Chicago at 7:00 p.m. last night headed to Washington, D.C., this is the number that you are to call.

Stay with us, more on this breaking news story in Maryland right after a quick break.




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