Amtrak Train Braked Seconds Before Hitting Parked CSX Train

Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board,  gave reporters more details Monday on the tragic collision of an Amtrak train and a CSX freight train that left two dead and more than 100 injured on Sunday.

The Miami-bound train crash killed Michael Cella and Michael Kempf, the train's conductor and engineer. 

Preliminary findings of the investigation point to human error as the main culprit of the crash since an improperly, manually set CSX switch sent the Amtrak train speeding down a separate side track--into a parked freight train. 

A data recorder, recovered from the Amtrak train, illustrated the frantic final seconds before the train hit the stationary freight train at 50 m.p.h. Sunday just after 2:30 a.m. 

The Amtrak train covered the 650 feet from the track spur to the CSX train in less than 10 seconds while the conductor and engineer blared the horn and applied emergency brakes. Their futile efforts only managed to slow the train, which was operating just under the 59 m.p.h. speed limit for the area.

The NTSB conducted interviews with several CSX employees and Amtrak crew and will remain on the ground until the weekend, Sumwalt said.

That speed limit was imposed because signals in that area were undergoing upgrades for technology known as positive train control. That technology is designed to prevent train-on-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, and train movements through misaligned track switches--as was the case in Cayce. 

Per the train data recorder:

- Seven seconds before the end of the recording, the Amtrak train’s horn was activated for three seconds. Speed was 56 m.p.h.

- Two seconds later, the brake-pipe pressure began decreasing. The following second, the throttle transitioned from full throttle to idle, while the train was at 54 m.p.h.

- One second later, while the train was at 53 m.p.h., emergency braking was initiated.

- The recording ended 2 seconds later. The train’s speed was 50 mph as the train’s air braking system was approaching max braking.