CHESTER, Pa.- An Amtrak train struck a piece of construction equipment just south of Philadelphia on Sunday causing a derailment, killing two Amtrak workers and sending more than 30 passengers to hospitals, authorities said.
Train 89 was heading from New York to Savannah, Georgia, at about 8 a.m. when it hit a backhoe that was on the track in Chester, about 15 miles outside of Philadelphia, officials said. The impact derailed the lead engine of the train that was carrying more than 300 passengers and seven crew members.
Chester fire commissioner Travis Thomas said two people were killed.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters at a New York news conference on another subject Sunday that he was told by Amtrak board chairman Anthony Coscia that the workers killed were the backhoe operator and a supervisor, both Amtrak employees. He said debris from the crash flew into the first two cars, causing the injuries to passengers.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Ryan Frigo said Sunday evening that the data recorder and forward-facing and inward-facing video from the locomotive have been recovered.
Frigo confirmed that one of the two people killed was the operator of the equipment. Schumer said a top Amtrak official told him that both people who died were Amtrak employees.
Schumer said it's unclear whether the backhoe was performing regular maintenance, which is usually scheduled on Sunday mornings because there are fewer trains on the tracks, or whether it was clearing debris from high winds in the area overnight. But he said Amtrak has "a 20-step protocol" for having backhoes on the track, and no trains are supposed to go on a track where such equipment is present.
"Clearly this seems very likely to be human error," Schumer said, calling for Amtrak to review its processes. "There is virtually no excuse for a backhoe to be on an active track."
A message left with Amtrak officials has yet to be returned.
Amtrak says it will operate regularly scheduled trains on Monday after a deadly derailment outside Philadelphia disrupted service.
Amtrak says there may be some delays, however, on Acela Express, Northeast Regional and other services between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.
Thomas and Amtrak officials said more than 30 people were taken to hospitals with injuries that weren't considered life-threatening.
A city of Chester spokesperson said a total of 37 passengers were injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating. Officials with the Federal Railroad Administration were also sent to the scene, said Matthew Lehner, a spokesman for the agency.
Service on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Philadelphia is operating after an earlier suspension. Service between Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia remained suspended.
Ari Ne'eman, a disability rights activist heading to Washington after speaking at an event in New York, said he was in the second car at the time of the crash.
"The car started shaking wildly, there was a smell of smoke, it looked like there was a small fire and then the window across from us blew out," said Ne'eman, 28, of Silver Spring, Maryland.
Some of the passengers started to get off after the train stopped, but the conductor quickly stopped them. Officials started evacuateing people to the rear of the train and then off and to a local church.
"It was a very frightening experience. I'm frankly very glad that I was not on the first car," where there were injuries, he said. "The moment that the car stopped, I said Shema, a Jewish prayer ... I was just so thankful that the train had come to a stop and we were OK."
Tierra Byrd, who lives nearby, told CBS Philadelphia: "I heard a loud crash. I saw the train go by and thought it was coming into the house."
Amtrak said there were approximately 341 passengers and seven crew members on board.
Last May, an Amtrak train derailed near Philadelphia, killing eight people. Officials are still trying to determine the exact cause of that crash.
Last month, another Amtrak train derailed in Kansas, although no one was killed in that crash.