Amtrak Says Misaligned Switch to Blame in Deadly South Carolina Crash

(Photo by the National Transportation Safety Board)

Amtrak says a misaligned switch is to blame for a head-on collision that left two Amtrak employees dead and more than 100 passengers injured, reports indicate.

Amtrak train No. 91, a Silver Star traveling from New York to Miami, collided with a CSX freight train around 2:35 a.m. on Feb. 4 in Cayce, S.C. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the crash.

“Key to this investigation is learning why the switch was lined that way,” CNBC quoted Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the NTSB, as saying.

Reuters identified the two crew members who were killed as engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Ga., and conductor Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, Fla.

According to Reuters, Amtrak President and Chief Executive Richard Anderson blamed CSX for the wreck. He said the Amtrak train was “on the track as dispatched by CSX” and that the Silver Star “was cleared to proceed by CSX dispatch, but CSX had lined and padlocked the switch off the mainline to the siding, causing the collision.”

Anderson also indicated Positive Train Control (PTC) could have prevented the crash.

“It’s a horrible thing to see, to understand what force was involved,” CNBC quoted South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster as telling reporters. “The first engine of the freight train was torn up, and the single engine of the passenger train is barely recognizable.”

The crash was the latest in a string for Amtrak. Other recent crashes include:

  • Jan. 31: One person was killed near Crozet, Va., after an Amtrak train carrying lawmakers to a retreat in West Virginia struck his truck. The driver of the truck apparently tried to circumvent the crossing gates, which often remained down for long periods of time even when no trains were approaching, ABC News reported.
  • Dec. 18: Three people were killed and more than 80 injured when Amtrak Cascades No. 501 derailed while passing through the Point Defiance Bypass near DuPont, Wash.