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Tracks Blamed For Fatal Crash

Poor track maintenance was to blame for the fatal crash of the Amtrak Auto Train in Florida last year, federal investigators said Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board unanimously approved a report saying the track's owners, CSX Transportation, did not ensure the track was properly aligned and had adequate supports.

"This is something that should have been prevented through proper maintenance," NTSB Chairwoman Ellen Engleman said.

The Auto Train, one of Amtrak's most popular services, travels between the Washington, D.C., suburb of Lorton, Va., and Sanford, Fla., just outside Orlando. It was headed north when it derailed near Crescent City, Fla., shortly after 5 p.m. on April 18, 2002. Twenty-one of 40 cars left the track. Four people were killed and 36 seriously injured.

After the wreck, the train's engineer told investigators he had seen a misalignment of the track just ahead and was trying to apply the brakes when the force of the derailment threw him against the wall.

CSX employees and Florida rail safety inspectors told the NTSB that the section of track was troublesome because it was built on a steep embankment, and the gravel used for ballast kept sliding away.

Inspections after the accident found sections near the derailment lacking the necessary ballast in the "crib" between ties and along the track's shoulders, the NTSB said. Full crib ballast is needed to keep ties and rails from slipping out of place.

A CSX coal train passed over the track just before the Auto Train took the curve and that crew told NTSB investigators they noticed no roughness or irregularity.

CSX employees also had inspected the section of track twice earlier on the day of the accident, and Florida rail safety inspectors had checked it a week-and-a-half before and found nothing wrong.

In its recommendations, the NTSB said CSX should develop a program to ensure compliance with the company's maintenance standards.

Gary Sease, a company spokesman, said CSX has already implemented NTSB's recommendations.

Last spring it said that since the accident it has improved training for employees who maintain and inspect tracks and was testing laser technology to help identify places that need more ballast.

The NTSB also asked Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Transportation Security Administration to ensure there are accurate lists of all passengers and crew on long-distance trains. Investigators say determining who was on board was made more difficult because there was no such list.

"If you have emergency personnel looking for people who don't exist, that's unacceptable," Engleman said.

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