Auto Train Close To Rolling Again

Amtrak train derailment Florida Auto Train AP

Amtrak's Auto Train could be cleared to resume scheduled runs through this northern Florida town as early as Tuesday, now that the wreckage from last week's deadly train crash has been removed.

The track where the Amtrak Auto Train derailed Thursday in a mess of mangled cars and rails was cleared Sunday, allowing a few trains to resume using the track.

The original tracks were torn out in the derailment, which left four people dead and more than 150 injured. The first coal train that moved through Sunday morning was on temporary rails, said Gary Sease, spokesman for CSX, the freight railroad that owns the track.

The sections of temporary track are each 39 feet long and for now can hold slow-moving trains at 10 mph. The company plans to make improvements this week to allow the temporary tracks to withstand trains up to 25 mph.

Sease said an average of 28 trains a day are normally scheduled there.

Amtrak spokeswoman Kathleen Cantillon said the company was working to have the Auto Train running again Tuesday.

The Auto Train had been headed for Washington with 418 passengers and 34 crew members, as well as 200 automobiles stacked in 23 specially designed cars, when it derailed.

Its two engines and first two cars stayed on the tracks, but more than half its 40 cars went off, throwing passengers to the cars' floors and against walls.

Twenty five people remained hospitalized Sunday, with one in critical condition, Cantillon said. More than 75 percent of the passengers have arrived home or are headed home, and another 100 are in Orlando hotels, Cantillon said.

The National Transportation and Safety Board is holding eight of the train cars for further inspection, Cantillon said.

The lead engineer told the NTSB that he saw a disjointed track about an hour into a trip from Sanford to Lorton, Va., and slammed on the engine's brake. Seconds later, a backup engineer in the locomotive cab and a conductor two cars back felt the train hit disjointed track and switched on emergency brakes as well, NTSB board member George Black said.

The NTSB hasn't said if its investigators have been able to verify if the track was misaligned.

The area where the crash occurred had chronic problems with water drainage that may have contributed to the accident, Black said. A culvert runs under the tracks that has often waterlogged the sandy soil.

Passing trains can compress the water below the track, forming soft spots and depressing the track downward. Black said the track appeared to be moving under the weight of trains, loosening the bond between crossties, steel tie plates and spikes.

But on Saturday, NTSB investigator Russ Quimby said that the area where the culvert could have caused soft spots was hundreds of feet in front of where the accident occurred.


  • John Esterbrook

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