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Passenger Train Derailed in Kensington, MD

Aired July 29, 2002 - 14:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Just to give you a perspective; we're following a breaking news story right now in Kensington, Maryland. This is where an Amtrak trail derailment has taken place. This is what we can tell you so far as we are looking at live pictures here from one of our affiliates, WUSA in the area.

This Amtrak train was coming from Chicago heading to Washington, D.C., where at some point something went wrong. We don't know yet what caused this derailment, but it happened in Montgomery County, Kensington, Maryland. Five passenger cars, we know so far have turned over; possibly a sixth down at embankment. Not quite sure if this is actually the sixth car or one of the five. We are still trying to piece it all together.

What we can tell you, so far, no fatalities. A number of survivors already out of those passenger cars. You are looking right now at fire crews, firefighters and police officers, trying desperately to get those injured individuals out of that passenger car there, as we bring you the latest on this train derailment in Montgomery County, Maryland, also known as the Kensington area.

Steve Eisen, freelance photographer there on the scene. He's been updating us from time to time in between taking pictures. Steve, thanks so much for making time for us.

STEVE EISEN, PHOTOGRAPHER: OK. It's a little difficult for me to hear you. There's helicopters flying over my head. I don't know if they are news crews or medevacs. There are still a number of people critically injured and trapped in some wreckage further down the line. I said to one of the fire chiefs of Montgomery County Fire Department, district chief, his name is Bob Steppins (ph). He tells me there's as many as 12 cars there overturned.

PHILLIPS: Twelve cars now?

EISEN: That's correct.

PHILLIPS: He's the fire chief there in the area has told you 12 cars overturned?

EISEN: That's what he is telling me. I personally can only see about five of them myself, but there's some further ones down the line which are hidden by trees. PHILLIPS: OK. We are also told, Steve, I don't know what the fire chief told you, but the PIO for the police department told us that so far no fatalities. What did the fire chief tell you?

EISEN: OK. As far as I can tell, there is no fatalities, but I'm busy taking a lot of pictures, a lot of people with head wounds and wounds of the blood nature, bandaged up. Some people have some back problems. Obviously, in an overturned train car you are going to have people with injured backs. So far I've personally seen approximately 20 to 25 people that have been assisted and taken out on stretchers.

PHILLIPS: Steve, I know you brought us an incredible interview just moments ago, you just handed your phone over to a survivor. Are you in a position possibly that while you take some more pictures, we could talk with another survivor?

EISEN: Right now, down in the wooded area where fire department people, personnel are very busy trying to further extricate and load people on stretchers. All the EMS and fire personnel are very, very busy. There is no one else I cab grab at the moment. I can only further tell you that you still have some very seriously injured people still mixed amongst the wreckage that are being worked on and being help extricated from the scene.

PHILLIPS: OK. Well, then while you are right there, keep in mind if there's someone you can pass the phone to, Steve, by all means do it. But as you are right there close to these rescue crews as they are trying to save these individuals, sort of can you give us a play- by-play and give us an even better description? Are they using ropes, are they using...

EISEN: OK. I don't know whether you want me to stay on the line with my phone line open, or whether we are going to disconnect?

PHILLIPS: OK. You stay with me as long as you can, Steve, OK?

EISEN: Hold on one second. Sir, were you on the train? No? OK. There's a few more people coming out. I'm trying to ask them if they were on the train or not. Hold on a second, please. Were you people on the train? No. OK. These are people that evidently live in this residential area, which is known as Kengar.

PHILLIPS: Kengar?

EISEN: K-e-n-g-a-r.

PHILLIPS: Kengar. And now I understand that a lot of these residents came out and started helping rescue these passengers. Is that true?

EISEN: Physically, I do not know if they went up on top of the train or not. I don't see how they could have before the fire personnel got here and put ladders up on the overturned cars. I don't see how they could have gotten on top and pulled these people out of these windows that are facing up, and also another side facing down on the tracks.

PHILLIPS: All right, Steve, we are looking at live pictures...

EISEN: From what I can see, I'm looking at cars number four and five. All the people have been taken out of those cars. There's obviously cars five, six and seven, and if there's more, fire personnel is still working on getting people out of those cars that are still overturned.

PHILLIPS: All right. We are told right now so far no fatalities at least. Six people critically injured at this train derailment.

EISEN: Hold on one second. I have Chief Bob Steppins (ph) who may be able to talk to you.

PHILLIPS: Perfect. That's perfect, Steve. All right, get him on the line.

If you are just tuning in...

EISEN: Bob, this is CNN, they're live on the air. They'd like to know, Chief Steppins (ph), if you can talk to them at all about anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't.

EISEN: OK. I'm sorry, he says he doesn't have any time to be able to talk to you at this time.

PHILLIPS: That's all right.

EISEN: He's too busy.

PHILLIPS: You know what, I've got to tell you, we need to hire you as a reporter and a photographer, my friend. You are doing a great job working the scene there.

Why don't you go ahead and tell us exactly where you are and what you can see, Steve.

EISEN: Well, there's some homes adjacent to these train tracks which are approximately 30 yards away from the train itself. There's some more fire personnel, EMS personnel walking down to the scene.

Hold on a second. I have to stop and take some pictures. Hold on one moment.

PHILLIPS: OK. I'll brief viewers here. He's doing an incredible job. That's Steve Eisen, a freelance photographer there on the scene working it for us, getting information, telling us what it's like there on the ground. He did bring us an interview with a survivor just moments ago, Paula from Chicago. She was traveling with her 13-year-old girl. Did an interview with her, via Steve's cell phone. This is what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAULA: We were in the second car -- or third car behind the engine. We were in the upper deck in a sleeping car. Suddenly, the train started to lurch and started to fall off the tracks. We landed on our side. We had a little bit of trouble getting out of our sleeping berth, because it was on the ground, and then climbing to the upper part of the train and climbing down.

The last cars in the train are the coach cars, and they are having a little more difficult of a time because they are in a very wooded area of this -- this section of the residential area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Once again, you are hearing from Paula. She was heading from Chicago with her 13-year-old daughter. You are looking actually now at pictures. Are these live pictures, or is this -- OK, this is tape that we just got fed in from the crew there on the scene in Montgomery County, or Kensington, Maryland, rather. You are seeing rescue crews, firefighters, also a number of survivors here from this train derailment.

Let's see if we can listen to this interview here with this survivor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hadn't ridden the train for 25 years or so. And I was almost complacent and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stacey (ph), we cannot hear him.

PHILLIPS: OK. We are having a hard time, a little technical problems there. That's what happens when you have live breaking news, trying to bring you some sound there with the survivor. These are live pictures from WTTG.

If you are just tuning in, we are following what we are told now a 12 passenger cars have overturned after this Amtrak train derailed, heading from Chicago, Illinois to Washington, D.C.

Here's a look at the route right here. If you are looking at your screen to the left, the train came out of -- left Chicago, Illinois, rather, heading to Washington, D.C. About 10 minutes before getting to Washington, D.C., we are told that this train derailed; 12 passenger cars overturned. At first we were told four. That number has been upgraded, according to the fire chief on the scene. He was talking to a freelance photographer Steve Eisen. We had been talking to him for a matter of minutes. He's taking pictures there on the scene. He calls in every few minutes that he can to update us on what he sees. So far, we are told, no fatalities. So far, no fatalities, but six people critically injured. Dozens and dozens of other people injured.

Fire crews right now trying to get people out of those passenger cars. A number of people have already escaped. They broke through emergency windows, other windows on the train. You can see right here some of the doors even open. Crews are, as you can see right there, crossing -- actually, not quite sure why they are crossing off the windows. I'll have to ask as soon as we get someone else on the line to talk about the crews and what they are doing. We'll find out exactly what these pictures mean. If that means that passengers are out of there, if there are passengers in there that desperately need help and fire crews need to tend to the people in those passenger cars.

But right now, six critically injured. No fatalities. This is what we are told, as 12 passenger cars have overturned. If you are just tuning in, this Amtrak train leaving Chicago heading to Washington, D.C. derailed just about 10 minutes before arriving to its spot.

Now we are going to take you to a live interview with Mary Schiavo, former inspector general with the Department of Transportation. Mary, you are coming to us live from Los Angeles. Do you hear me OK?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: I do just fine, thank you.

PHILLIPS: Great. Thank you so much for being with us. She's live in our studio.

First thing I want to ask you, Mary, one of the individuals with whom I spoke talked about the heat, and possibly that maybe the heat may have caused these tracks to buckle. It's something that has happened in the past when the conditions, the weather conditions are like this. What can you tell us about heat influencing track to buckle? Explain that to us.

SCHIAVO: Well, actually it can when you have very high heat conditions, it can actually cause the train track -- obviously it's metal -- to expand, and the track can literally stretch out or can buckle or can expand. And actually from one of your shots, it did look -- of course, the train has gone off the track -- but it did look like that.

And of course, one of the difficulties is in inspecting the track. It's -- the railroads have had some difficulty with this issue for a very long time, because this is a known phenomenon. There are also problems with, of course, the track under supports, et cetera. But it's difficult as to how frequently they need to inspect the track and running some sort of inspection mechanism.

So if the heat does cause this, the track to deform, come out of shape, or you have other natural problems and other conditions in other places -- recently, they had a derailment in Florida and people were looking at other kinds of conditions there. But one of the issues is how frequently do you do inspect. And here with this train, this particular train being a double-decker train, it's a train that has overnight compartments in it, et cetera, it's interesting that this is the one that went off the track. And again, you would have different sort of load factors on the train, and then the heat would certainly cause the track to have some deformity.

PHILLIPS: All right, you mentioned a number of things. First of all, let's talk about the inspection mechanism. When you say that, is there some type of inspection mechanism in place to give the train or those on the train, driving the train -- I hope I'm using the proper term -- sort of a heads-up that the track is buckling?

SCHIAVO: Well, actually, there are methods. There are, for example, things that you can literally run down the track, inspection capabilities. You can always do more low-tech, literally looking at, walking, inspecting the track. There are devices you can use to actually run along the track, but obviously they don't run them in advance of every train. And in many cases, it is the train engineer literally looking and seeing the conditions.

Now, here, obviously it was a curve. There was foliage et cetera around the track, but there are more mechanized inspection methods that aren't in use sort of frequently or at all times, and of course literally the railroad say we couldn't possibly run them in advance of every train.

So while you could do more inspections, the inspections that they do obviously do leave the trains vulnerable to having a situation where the heat can cause the train to -- the train track to go out of shape. There's of course vandalism that sometimes can go undetected. Sink holes, you name it. But tracks are vulnerable, and it's very difficult to inspect them in the -- in advance of every train trip through, but there are more methods, additional methods, including some technological means to do more inspections.

PHILLIPS: Mary Schiavo, we're going to ask you to hold tight for just a minute. Marty is former inspector general for the Department of Transportation. Marty, you are giving us some fantastic insights. Please hold on just for a second. Right now, I want to go to the phones. Vernae Graham, Amtrak spokesperson, on the phone from California. Vernae, what can you tell us?

VERNAE GRAHAM, AMTRAK SPOKESWOMAN: I think you probably have all the general information that the train, the capital (ph) limited train number 30, and it derailed about 1:55 Eastern time. The train was carrying approximately 190 passengers, 12 crew members at the time of the derailment.

PHILLIPS: Vernae, how many people did you say? I'm sorry.

GRAHAM: One hundred and ninety.

PHILLIPS: One hundred and ninety people.

GRAHAM: One hundred and ninety customers and 12 crew.

PHILLIPS: OK. Thank you. I'm sorry. Continue. I apologize.

GRAHAM: The train consisted of two engines and 13 passenger cars, and preliminary reports from the scene indicate that we have 11 passenger cars that have derailed. PHILLIPS: OK, 11 have derailed.

GRAHAM: Right. Right now, the local authorities have responded, and minor injuries have been reported. The train, as you well know, derailed on tracks owned and operated and maintained by CSX corporation.

We have also set up an 800 number for -- a toll free number for the families of our passengers on train number 30. And that number is 1-800-523-9101.

PHILLIPS: 1-800-523-9101.

GRAHAM: Yes, and we have dispatched a customer care team to the site, to respond to the incident.

PHILLIPS: So for those that may have had someone on board there, it was train number 30, leaving Chicago at what time?

GRAHAM: It left Chicago -- I actually...

PHILLIPS: That's OK. While you look for that, we did tell folks it was heading to Washington, D.C., arrival time about 1:45 Eastern time. One the phone with us, Vernae Graham, Amtrak spokesperson on the phone from California. She's telling us about train number 30 here; 11 -- confirming that 11 passenger cars have overturned in this derailment that took place not long ago.

Are you still with me, Vernae?

GRAHAM: I sure am.

PHILLIPS: OK.

GRAHAM: The train originated out of Chicago at 7:00 p.m..

PHILLIPS: 7:00 p.m.

GRAHAM: Yes.

PHILLIPS: 7:00 p.m. last night?

GRAHAM: Yesterday, yes.

PHILLIPS: 7:00 p.m. last night, OK, and was heading to Washington, about to arrive at 1:45 this afternoon. OK.

Vernae, what can you tell us about the heat possibly have causing these track to buckle?

GRAHAM: At this time, I think we are still assessing the situation. I don't have any information on that, but as we get the information, we will give updates, updated -- updates as needed.

PHILLIPS: Has that been a common problem with you?

GRAHAM: As far as the heat?

PHILLIPS: Yes.

GRAHAM: We have not had any reports of any sort of heat-related incidents recently, but as you well know, it has caused -- it has been a cause, a concern in the past.

PHILLIPS: How often are these tracks inspected, Vernae?

GRAHAM: Actually, I can't tell you any more information about that. I think that you probably have to contact CSX about that.

PHILLIPS: OK. But indeed there are inspection mechanisms?

GRAHAM: Most definitely.

PHILLIPS: ... that are in place for this.

GRAHAM: Most definitely.

PHILLIPS: OK. Vernae Graham, Amtrak spokesperson, on the phone with us from California. Thank you so much, just confirming that 190 people were on this train that left Chicago 7:00 p.m. last night. Twelve crew members, 190 passengers. Now telling us 12 passenger cars have overturned. The fire chief, rather, on the scene, had said 12, but according to Amtrak, they are telling us 11 of these passenger cars derailed.

Let's bring Mary Schiavo back in. She's live in our Los Angeles studio. Former inspector general for the Department of Transportation. Mary, are you still with us?

SCHIAVO: I am. Thank you.

PHILLIPS: You bet. I noticed when I brought up the issue of the heat possibly causing these tracks to buckle, the spokesperson for Amtrak wasn't real comfortable talking about that. Is this something that is not an easy thing to address? I mean, you are looking at the scene here. You said it looks like those tracks did buckle.

SCHIAVO: Well, right. And remember, Amtrak runs the trains, and the spokesperson for Amtrak was exactly right. But CSX owns and has to inspect and repair and keep the tracks up to standards. And that's been a great difficulty for some time, because the cars and the trains and the passengers riding over them belong to one entity, and yet they have to rely upon CSX for the maintenance and upkeep of those tracks.

And there are other things that can cause difficulty. We have seen difficulty everything from the support ties underneath the tracks to the soil conditions to actually the pins holding the rail down, in many cases have had difficulty even with the quality of those materials.

So lots of things can cause a train to derail, but unfortunately for Amtrak, they don't own the tracks. They don't maintain the tracks, and in some cases, obviously, it's another entity they have to rely upon to do that.

The federal rail inspectors -- obviously we do have an agency that is supposed to assist in inspecting both the tracks and the cars that move over them, the trains that move over them, and that's the Federal Rail Administration -- it's a very small agency. In the past, they have had difficulty mounting a very rigid and sort of nationwide inspection system. They have sometimes had special emphasis on maintaining crossings, et cetera. But this was clearly not a crossing.

So you have a lot of entities involved, and Amtrak is not the only entity here involved. In many cases, it is a totally different company, CSX, that is responsible for the tracks that it has to travel over.

PHILLIPS: So, Mary, Amtrak, it's Amtrak, though, that is selling these tickets and getting these passengers on board. What type of communication, how does Amtrak deal with CSX? Does Amtrak need to check in with CSX on a regular basis, saying, hey, have you inspected these tracks? What have you done lately? Show me your inspection papers; we want to make sure our passengers are safe?

SCHIAVO: Well, certainly they can and they should do that, but they are supposed to also have the help of the Federal Rail Administration, the federal agency to do that, and of course, Amtrak is sort of contracting, almost a holding company, if you will, and they do have a lot of subcontractors that they deal with. And there will be a lot of questions asked here.

And this has been a problem that has come up before. The entity with the trains selling tickets has to travel over tracks maintained by another company. How do they go about inspecting it? How do they put the CSX and others to the test to know that they're really providing safe tracks? And how about requiring more inspections, et cetera? This is not the first time. If that is involved here, and that obviously could be something else, but if that is involved here, this will not be the first tragedy caused by these sorts of issues and multiple layers of companies involved in transporting passengers over the rail lines of this country.

PHILLIPS: And by no means are we saying that it was a buckling of the track that caused this, in no way are we blaming CSX or Amtrak. We are looking at possible scenarios here with Mary Schiavo, former inspector general with Department of Transportation, no doubt an expert on incidents like these.

Mary, we are going to ask you to hold tight. Coming up, we're going to talk to a former Amtrak engineer as we continue to follow breaking news and Amtrak derailment out of Kensington, Maryland. Stay with us.

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