Backhoe Struck In Amtrak Accident Was Scheduled To Be There, NTSB Reports

Two railroad workers were killed earlier this month when their backhoe was struck by an Amtrak train in Pennsylvania, and a preliminary report suggests that they were scheduled to be on the tracks at the time, raising questions about how that information was or was not communicated to the operator of the passenger train. 

According to an investigation update issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on April 18, the maintenance crew performing work on the track were within a scheduled 55-hour window when Amtrak train 89 struck the backhoe while traveling at nearly 106 mph, killing two workers.

The investigation is still ongoing to determine why the train was scheduled to pass through the designated area where maintenance was previously planned.

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On Sunday, April 3, 2016, at approximately 7:50 a.m., Amtrak train 89, carrying 337 passengers and seven crew members, struck the backhoe at mile post 15.7 on the Amtrak Northeast Corridor near Chester, Pennsylvania, killing backhoe operator, Joe Carter, and a supervisor, Peter Adamovich, both veteran Amtrak workers, and sending 41 Amtrak passengers to nearby hospitals.

The train consisted of one locomotive, eight passenger cars, one café car, and one baggage car. Reports suggest that it was traveling on track 3 at roughly 106 mph in a 110 mph speed limit zone at the time of the accident.

Investigators indicate the maintenance crew was performing ballast cleaning and a remediation of a fouled ballast on track two during a scheduled 55-hour window beginning on April 1, 2016 at 10:00 p.m. and extending to 5:00 a.m. on April 4, 2016.

The NTSB states that during the scheduled maintenance track 2 was removed from service and intermittent foul time was granted on main tracks 1, 3 and 4 to protect the crew members. The backhoe that was used to assist in cutting away the fouled ballast.

During scheduled maintenance times, the NTSB establishes what are known as “foul times” to ensure workers are not on the tracks at the same time a train is scheduled to use that track. The roadway worker is supposed to be notified by the train dispatcher that no trains will operate within a specific stretch of track until the maintenance crew members report the track is clear.

At this time, the NTSB has not confirmed whether the foul time protocols were set in place, or whether the Amtrak train had permission to use the track at the time of the incident. Some experts have speculated that proper foul time protocols could not have been set in place, indicating it would have been impossible to route the train on the parallel track because it would have recognized the scheduling conflict. The NTSB has not yet stated whether failed protocols or failure to get permission to use the track was the cause of the accident.

Statements gathered from the Amtrak trains engineer by the NTSB indicate the operator hit the brakes and initiated emergency protocols only after seeing something on the tracks ahead, leaving hardly any time to bring the train to a stop from its 106 mph traveling speed. The operator was not aware of any ongoing maintenance that would have potentially interfered with the route.

The report is the first of many anticipated updates to follow over the next year to determine where the communication failure occurred and establish backup protocols to prevent further fatalities and injuries from happening. Amtrak also recently reported the estimated damages of the accident to reach $2.2. million, not including any potential liability costs from lawsuits if the accident is determined to be a result of negligence.


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