Amtrak blames rival as two die in third train wreck since December
Two people died when an Amtrak passenger train slammed into a freight train parked on a side track in South Carolina.
It was the third deadly wreck involving Amtrak in less than two months but the company has pointed the finger at the owner of the CSX freight train.
The Silver Star was on its way from New York to Miami with nearly 150 people aboard about 2.45am when it ploughed into the CSX train at an estimated 100kmh, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said.
The crash happened at a switchyard about 16km south of Columbia.
The governor said investigators had yet to determine how the Amtrak train ended up on that stretch of track.
"The CSX was on the track it was supposed to be on," Mr McMaster said. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators.
Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf (54), of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella (36), of Orange Park, Florida, were killed, Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said.
Mr McMaster said 116 people were taken to four hospitals. The main trauma hospital in the area had three patients in critical or serious condition, with the rest treated for minor injuries such as cuts, bruises and whiplash, said Dr Steve Shelton, Palmetto Health director of emergency preparedness.
The locomotives of both trains were left crumpled, the Amtrak engine on its side. One carriage in the middle of the Amtrak train was snapped in half.
"It's a horrible thing to see, to understand the force involved," Mr McMaster said after touring the scene.
The area has three rows of tracks, and the freight train was parked on a "loading track or a side track" and "not the main track," Mr McMaster said.
"The first engine of the freight train was torn up, and the single engine of the passenger train is barely recognisable."
Amtrak said it was "deeply saddened" by the deaths. It said CSX owned and maintained the area where the crash occurred.
"CSX controls the dispatching of all trains, including directing the signal systems which control access to sidings and yards."
Officials said that about 22,000 litres of fuel leaked as a result of the collision, but it was under control and no threat to public safety.
Many passengers were asleep when the train began shaking violently and then slammed to a halt, said passenger Derek Pettaway. "You knew we'd hit something or we'd derailed," he said.
Elliot Smith told 'The State' newspaper of Columbia that he was staying with a friend when they heard what sounded like a propane tank exploding.
"The sound was so loud, you instantly knew it was bad," he said.
Mr Smith said he and his friend saw passengers limping along the tracks, while others tried to get everyone out of the carriages.
Amtrak officials gathered up luggage and other belongings and within hours put passengers on buses to their destinations.
Before being sent on their way, those who were not hurt were taken to a shelter set up at a middle school, and local businesses provided coffee and breakfast.
"We know they are shaken up. We know this is like nothing else they have ever been through. So we wanted to get them out of the cold, get them out of the weather," sheriff's spokesman Adam Myrick said.
Last Wednesday, a chartered Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress to a strategy retreat slammed into a rubbish truck at a crossing in rural Virginia, killing one person in the truck and injuring six others.
On December 18, an Amtrak train ran off the rails along a curve during its inaugural run south of Tacoma, Washington, killing three people and injuring dozens.
It was going nearly 120kmh, more than twice the speed limit.