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Amtrak Train Dangling onto Highway, Multiple Fatalities; NTSB Sending 20 Investigators to The Scene; Amtrak Says Positive Train Control Not in Effect. Aired 5:30-6p ET

Aired December 18, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Thanks to the people who did that in the community. When something bad like this happens, it takes everybody to respond to make a good result of something that's actually horrific, but considering when you look at it, it could have been much worse, and we have trains that intersect the freeway and the bridge and plenty of time. We are very grateful that everybody on the road is OK. We're very sorry for the loss of life for the people that are standing around waiting to hear who is deceased and we're very respectful of that, and we want to make sure we don't get anyone else hurt or injured as we move forward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many vehicles on the ground, would you say?

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Preliminarily, there were five vehicles on the ground that were on the ground that were hit including a semi- tractor trailer and truck. And that's preliminary until they unravel what's down there and find out what else might be going on. The state patrol from here on out will be handling it and I think I told you everything that there is to know that's up-to-date and they'll be running information out of that particular center.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know what number?



BALDWIN: OK, we are just getting a bit of information, this is yet another law enforcement official. He is speaking from what they call a family reunification center, a city hall not too far from the train derailment. But just imagine that's where the families are being told to go, and they still don't know yet whether their mom, dad, sons, daughters are OK. All we're getting again from law enforcement is multiple fatalities.

You did hear from that law enforcement, it sounds like even though there were five cars and semitrucks involved in I-5, involved in this massive derailment and crash, it sounds like those people are OK. It seems to me that from these law enforcement authorities, they're saying they are pinpointing the casualties on the train cars and as you can see some of the orange spray paint according to an official I talked to a minute ago, he was saying that that signifies from emergency officials the locations of bodies.

I still have Richard Beall and George Bible with me, and Richard Beall, just looking at the placement, the precarious placement and the dangling of these cars, I'm thinking of the people who survived, how did they even begin to get them out?

RICHARD BEALL, FORMER LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEER: Well, we don't know that they've got them all out yet, but when you have a situation such as this where you have rail cars that are unstable, they're going to have to enter them by one of two ways. Try to get, pry open the rear doors between the two cars which is extremely dangerous at this point, but there are emergency windows on every single passenger car that you can pull the rubber gaskets out and release the actual glass and get in there by buckets or by ladders from the fire department.

BALDWIN: Just awful to think about. George Bible, what are your other key questions?

GEORGE BIBLE, AUTHOR, "TRAIN WRECK: THE FORENSICS OF RAIL DISASTERS": Well, obviously, what caused the accident, and again, it's kind of early to hear that. Certainly, going too fast on a curve is problematic, but that seems to rarely happen. It certainly was the cause in the Philadelphia accident that killed eight in 2015. In Spain they had a terrible derailment and they were going twice the speed 111 miles an hour on a 50 MPH curve and they killed 79. They had the misfortune to derail on a massive concrete bridge abutment.

BALDWIN: Yeah. They keep saying, you know, they're so grateful. It could have been so much worse, but I have to tell you, just looking at these pictures, it's pretty bad. We don't know the numbers of fatalities or casualties, but our thoughts, of course, going out to family members in the Washington state area still waiting for news on the status of their loved ones. Gentlemen, thank you both so much. Let me bring in one more voice. Danea Orlob. She came upon this accident when it happened. You're with me on the phone. First of all, how are you doing?

DANAE ORLOB, WITNESS TO TRAIN ACCIDENT: Um, I'm doing OK. It's interesting to just go to work after something like that, but you know, you've got to keep going.

BALDWIN: Continue on, sure. Tell me where you were and what you saw.

ORLOB: So, I was headed in the opposite direction on I-5 because I was heading north, and the bridge goes over both sides of the freeway and basically, I passed under the bridge first. We started to see traffic piling up and then we turned our heads further to see what happened and it was absolutely unreal. Not what we were expecting to see at all. No police officers or anything there yet, and I had the driver of the car roll down the window and it was eerily silent.

[15:35:00] BALDWIN: When you say you saw the unreal, describe the unreal for me. What exactly did you see?

ORLOB: I mean, it looked like a scene out of a movie and having that many train cars off of something that you drive under so frequently. I drive under that overpass all of the time. We saw primarily the two train cars and the one coming off basically the side towards us to the north and the one falling off to the south, but probably the hardest thing was seeing the car that was trapped underneath the train car on our side. It almost seems like the accident had been there for some time because it was so quiet. It's hard to believe that it just happened, but when we saw the first cop car we realized it just happened and we had to have only missed it by a couple of minutes.

BALDWIN: So, you're heading on to work as you would any other day on I-5. You go under this overpass. You see the train. Do you see the train at that point or you only see the train when you look in your rear-view mirror?

ORLOB: Only when we saw, we were looking to see why traffic had built up and we had to turn completely to the left almost past like we had to slow down the car in order to turn our bodies a little bit further to see what had happened. So, it wasn't until after we saw the traffic building, that's when we saw all of the train cars had fallen.

BALDWIN: I don't know. It sounds like you slowed down and you talked to another car. Did you stop or notice other people stop, other people jumping out to try to help?

ORLOB: On our side, no. On the other side of the freeway that it happened on, yes. That was the only people that I could see were people over there, but a lot of people were getting out of the cars because they knew they couldn't go anywhere and a lot of people were trying to help.

BALDWIN: And how busy -- about what time of morning was it for you and how busy was the highway?

ORLOB: It was 7:40, and I mean, the traffic at that time of day can vary. It was not bad on my side and it shouldn't have been bad on the other side given that the traffic at that point had only backed up about a quarter of a mile and I don't know how long it will be until they get that opened up again. It was -- it was not that much traffic which is why it was so unusual.

BALDWIN: And to think, I'm sure you've gone on to work. If it were me I would be a little rattled and I would have seen all these pictures on the news. I mean, you missed this, Danae, by seconds.

ORLOB: Yeah. I am one of those people that just -- I gave myself a second to think about it could have been me and then what can I do. Like I said, I hopped on to twitter and hey, can you donate blood? What can we do because it's not about us, it's about them, and I'm happy to be here, though.

BALDWIN: Bless you. Thank you so much. I love that you looked into donating blood. Danae Orlob, I am so glad you're OK. We will stay on this breaking story. We'll bring in a former railroad engineer who knows these rails. He actually lives ten minutes away from where this derailment happened. We'll talk to him in just a moment.

[16:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDWIN: Back to these just awful pictures out of Washington state, the deadly train derailment. The first day the inaugural run of this Amtrak high-speed train, Seattle to Portland and this is the result of that. With me on the phone, John Hyatt, a former railroad engineer who investigates railroad accidents for a law firm. He lives about ten minutes away from where today's derailment happened. So, John, thank you very much for hopping on the phone. You of all of the experts I talked to today, you know this area very well. What are your initial thoughts when you see these images?

JOHN HYATT, FORMER RAILROAD ENGINEER: Well, you know, as the day has developed, and the images are more clear it is frightening, and it reminds me 20 years ago when we had two trains go head-on and right in Kelso, Washington about an hour and 1/2 away from there, in the records all over I-5, and it was a disaster just scares me. There was talk about positive train control, I know you mentioned earlier. and I don't know if positive train control was in effect in this particular spot.

BALDWIN: Remind people, John, what that is. People don't remember.

HYATT: Positive train control, it came up in the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. We consider it an angel on our shoulders out there on the track, and it's our backup and our safety net. In case you, for some reason, become displaced and you don't see the curve coming or you don't see the spot where you're supposed to be slowing down, the signals will be sent to the locomotive and this is just a raw form of explaining it to you, and it will begin applying the brakes on the train to get it down to that speed which is required, or stopping the train.

There are other terms in the industry that you will hear about like a dead man, if it's not being touched so many times a second, but then it will also apply the brake, and in this instance, looking at the accident and it did look like that engine did not make that curve and did not go over that bridge, and -- I don't know. Honestly, if it was at a high rate of speed that people were talking about earlier in the 79 mile-an-hour area it would look much, much worse than this. The train was down to a lower speed but there is no way of knowing that, and the event recorders and the black boxes will tell us all of that.

BALDWIN: I was talking to a woman that was on I-5 and saw this in the rear-view mirror and she missed it by a couple of seconds and it was like a scene out of a movie, and when you look, John, at how all these cars wound up. You think of what a train looks like, right? Altogether rounding a curve and how these cars would have jumped the tracks and the way they did and dangled and some of them upside down on the ground below and you think how could this have happened?

[15:45:00] HYATT: Yeah, it really is a big question mark. I really, one of my first instincts as an investigator looking at this is I have to question, there might have been a track malfunction of some sort.

BALDWIN: And you were not the first person to say that, the track.

HYATT: And that locomotive doesn't look like it went that far after derailing to be at a much higher rate of speed, but that is shooting from the hip because you don't know, and there was early reports thought they hit a truck and if you look at the picture, was there a semi on I-5 that ended up right by the locomotive, and that could have been confused by the locomotive being looking down there thinking they struck that truck.

It is so unclear right now. The one thing that is clear, it couldn't have happened in a more logistically perfect place or time if there is a silver lining to the cloud. You have a military base there, you have I-5, EMTs on the scene almost immediately and that's the positive side of this.

BALDWIN: As I'm listening to you, John, my producer just got in my ear, we were just talking about positive train control. Ted, tell me again, that was the President of Amtrak that said that? The President of Amtrak has now just said the positive train control was not activated on the tracks. There you have it.

HYATT: That's horrifying, Brooke, I have to tell you. In the accident that I referred to in 1993 five crew members were killed and they all had over ten years of experience each and there were over 100 years of experience with these five men, and they promised those families at that time in 1993 we will implement positive train control, and every time you turn around it gets pushed back and pushed back and I put this right in Congress' lap. Right now, I look at this and if there was no positive train control in effect there, then shame on them.

BALDWIN: You know those families are saying how can you have a high- speed train between Seattle and Portland and not have as you said, the angel on your shoulder, that positive train control. Talk with that not have existed?

HYATT: I'm angry, Brooke, and I even don't know anybody involved in this at this point. If what he said is true and he's the President of Amtrak, then what in the world are we doing?

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

HYATT: There are too many questions.

BALDWIN: It's a question that should be posed to Congress, indeed. John Hyatt, I'm glad we had you on the phone. I got handed a piece upon paper, Amtrak President and co-CEO Richard Anderson said positive train control was not active on the tracks at the time of the derailment.

We know that NTSB crews, 10-person crew is en route to the scene and the chief investigator is on his or her way there from Washington to Washington state so hopefully answer some of these, and we'll come forward to how in the world this happened and for now, john Hyatt, thank you for hopping on the phone with me and I appreciate your anger and the visceral reaction to that piece of information and it's devastating for these families.

Next here, speaking of Washington, D.C., we are live there on Capitol Hill where another Republican senator has just confirmed he is voting yes on the tax bill set for a vote less than 24 hours from now. We'll explain what's in it that can affect your money next.


BALDWIN: Washington state in just a second, but to Washington, D.C. we go to now. Breaking news there where another Republican senator has just confirmed he is a yes vote on this tax bill. Let's go straight to our senior Congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly who is there on Capitol Hill. Where does that put us ahead of tomorrow's vote?

PHIL MATTINGLY, OUR SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republican leaders no doubt about it, Brooke, are inching towards having the votes. They're actually are very confident behind the scenes they do have the votes already. Senator Mike Lee of Utah was previously unknown where he was standing, made clear he wanted to read the bill over the weekend. The conference proposal which came out on Friday, 503 pages of light weekend reading I guess you could say.

He is now officially a yes on the bill. Brooke, that puts all eyes on do more senators, Senator Jeff Flake and Senator Susan Collins. We don't know where they currently stand right now. I can tell you just from my reporting, Senate Republican aides feel very confident that both, not just one, but both of them will eventually be yes votes. Senator Susan Collins put out a statement touting the win she had in the final conference report, the things she got in exchange for her yes vote on the Senate proposal the first time around.

Also in the final conference proposal, what Jeff Flake got for his yes vote the first time around, basically the expensing provision was supposed to end after five years, there is now a more gradual phase out. Collins made a kind of a side deal on this with two health care proposals she wanted to see in the final year-end spending deal. There has been a lot of question and confusion as to whether or not those would actually be in there. I'm told from several GOP aides those will be in there.

As long as that is the case, expect Senator Collins to come around. So where does that leave Republicans now. Senator John McCain has flown home to Arizona to continue his recovery from his cancer treatment. They already had a very slim majority there so not a lot to work with in terms of space or no votes. But as things currently stand, there are no declared no votes in the U.S. Senate right now.

We talked about Senator Bob Corker flipping from no to yes last week. That means if things continue on their current track, they are OK in the Senate, they will be able to pass this. In the house, people have made it very clear that I have been speaking to, that they're confident they'll be there in the house as well. If you look at the timeline, Brooke, the house will take this up tomorrow afternoon, should pass it, then the Senate will follow suit, there is a chance, a pretty good chance I'm told that the President could have this tax bill on his desk. The first time a tax overhaul has been completed in more than 31 years by Wednesday afternoon. You talk about how fast they've moved over the last eight or nine weeks. I think a lot of us chuckled at the idea this could be done within the year. Brooke, they're right on the edge of that right now.

BALDWIN: Chuckle no more. Republicans I should say have a big week in Washington. You have a big couple of days covering all of this for us. Phil Mattingly, thank you so very much. Watching all of the chess pieces on Capitol Hill. Quick break. Back in a moment.