Investigators are trying to find out what caused a New York-bound Amtrak train to derail in Philadelphia, killing six, injuring scores and closing part of the busiest passenger-rail corridor in the U.S.
Northeast Regional Train 188, which originated in Washington, went off the tracks about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. The crash sent more than 140 people to hospitals, the Associated Press reported.
An engine and seven cars careened off the tracks, according to Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration. Three cars were resting on their sides and one almost on its roof. One was perpendicular to the others. At about 9 a.m. on Wednesday, police guided a large crane through the barricade at Wheatsheaf toward the derailment.
The wreck turned a Philadelphia neighborhood into a search and rescue zone, illuminated by flashlights and spotlights as workers pulled the injured from cars and tried to determine whether other people remained trapped. Bloodied passengers could be seen hobbling from the wreckage.
The train, which derailed in the northeast section of the city, carried about 238 passengers and five crew, according to Amtrak. Mayor Michael Nutter confirmed the death toll at a news conference Tuesday night. A Temple University hospital spokesman said Wednesday morning that a sixth person had died.
“It is an absolute, disastrous mess,” Nutter told reporters. “We do not know why this happened.”
Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia is suspended, sending business travelers and commuters searching for other ways to traverse the East Coast.
Modified service will be provided between Washington and Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and New York and Boston, according to an Amtrak statement. New Jersey Transit will honor Amtrak tickets between New York City and Trenton.
At New York’s Pennsylvania Station, Amtrak customers heading to Philadelphia and Washington took New Jersey Transit trains instead.
Andrea Pellettiere rushed to NJ Transit after her Amtrak to Philadelphia was canceled. She was booked as far as Trenton, New Jersey, and planned to take connecting trains from there.
“I’m going to do my damnedest to get there,” Pellettiere, 40, who works in human resources, said as she settled into her seat.
Amtrak’s accident rate has been inching higher, with 67 in 2014, up from 58 in 2013 and 57 in 2012, according to the Federal Railroad Administration
There were nine derailments in the first two months of this year alone, though none were fatal, according to the agency. Six occurred in the agency’s region that includes Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
Amtrak logged 28 derailments nationwide in 2014, up from 25 in 2013.
Tuesday’s mishap in Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood is in an area filled with industrial warehouses, auto mechanics and body shops. The accident was in an area called Frankford Junction that has a sweeping curve. A 1943 derailment of the Congressional Limited train, which killed 79, occurred nearby.
The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate the accident, the agency said on Twitter. The Federal Railroad Administration sent eight investigators and the agency’s acting administrator, Sarah Feinberg, according to a statement.
The derailment was far from Amtrak’s deadliest accident. In 1993, 47 people died and 103 were injured as rail cars careened off a bridge and into water near Mobile, Alabama.
On Tuesday, Michelle Premaza, 33, who lives a quarter-mile away, said she was in her house when she saw and heard the crash.
“I seen a big flash and heard rolling thunder,” Premaza said. “It was crazy.”
Victims were taken to several hospitals.
Hahnemann University Hospital admitted seven patients, one in serious condition, said Gianna DeMedio, a spokeswoman. They suffered varying levels of injuries, mostly burns and fractures.
Two patients were in critical-but-stable condition at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, according to spokesman Steve Graff.
Ten remained at Aria Health’s Torresdale campus, a trauma center, spokeswoman Maria Cerceo Slade said.
The event that injured them was sudden and violent.
Former U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy was on the train on his way home to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, when it crashed. He said he was in the cafe car at a bench table, felt a “major vibration” and then everyone on the left side flew across the car.
“I went headfirst into the other side,” said Murphy. “I’m lucky to be alive.”
Beth Davidz, of Brooklyn, New York, said she was in the third car. She said it felt like the train was making a wide turn before it turned on its side and slid for yards. Davidz, 35, said she felt herself falling.
“I knew I was alive because I felt dirt in my mouth,” she said.
People used mobile phones to light their way out and climbed onto seats to exit through the windows, Davidz said.
“I came out of it with one shoe and my phone, and I feel lucky,” she said.