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No Fatalities Reported in Amtrak Derailment in Kensington, MD

Aired July 29, 2002 - 15:23   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone, I'm Kyra Phillips in the CNN Center in Atlanta.

If you're just tuning in, we've been following breaking news for the past hour-and-a-half or so. A train derailment in Kensington, Maryland. Here's the route: The Amtrak train was leaving Chicago, Illinois at 7:00 p.m. last night, heading to Washington, D.C. when something went wrong and the train derailed in Kensington, Maryland.

Right now we're told 11 cars have overturned. You're looking at pictures here on the scene. Eleven passenger cars overturned. One hundred and ninety people onboard and 12 crew members. So far we're told no fatalities. That is the good news.

However, a number of critical injuries. Right now fire crews and police are desperately trying to rescue passengers that are still trapped inside. A number of passengers escaped on their own, breaking through emergency windows and breaking through other types of windows throughout the passenger cars, even doors that were opened before the train had derailed.

Moments ago we had talked to one of those survivors, Paula (ph). Her 13-year-old daughter come back from Chicago saying everything was just going fine. All of a sudden they heard a huge crash and bump, and the next thing they knew they were bracing to their seats -- bracing themselves to the seats as their passenger car turned over. But incredibly enough, they were able to escape.

That seems to be the story of many people here today. Dozens and dozens of people escaping from these passenger cars that have overturned.

What we know so far: no fatalities, a number of critically injured individuals, fire crews still desperately working to get the other injured individuals out of those passenger cars.

On the phone with us now we have Andrew Rydholm, a former Amtrak engineer. He actually worked on this route. He's on the phone with us from Florida.

Andrew, can you hear me OK?


PHILLIPS: Well, first of all, as you look at these pictures, what's your take here?

RYDHOLM: Well, obviously it's a bad situation they've got in Maryland, which was not too far from where they had the Silver Spring crash back with the MARC and Amtrak train in -- what was it? --'95- '96.

PHILLIPS: Refresh our memory. It was a similar type of accident?

RYDHOLM: It was an Amtrak train, the top-limited (ph) going, actually, westbound to Chicago in a snowstorm, and a MARC commuter train going eastbound to Washington, Union Station collided in Silver Spring, Maryland at a crossover.

PHILLIPS: Now was there a crossover here, do you know? You...

RYDHOLM: Not right at that point, no.

PHILLIPS: OK, so what do you think happened here? Does it look like -- I mean, there's been talk here; we were talking with Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the Department of Transportation, saying that it's possible heat may have caused these tracks to buckle. She actually saw the pictures of the track, and said, indeed, it does possibly look like that.

What do you know about the heat causing these tracks to buckle?

RYDHOLM: Well, I was talking to my mother this morning. And she's in Arlington, Virginia, and she says it's very hot there. I know they have an excessive heat advisory for the Washington, D.C. area today. And heat does play a point with causing the tracks to expand and contract.

Basically what happens when the temperature gets over a certain degree, the tracks can kink. And I've had a minor kink that I've seen when I worked between Washington and New York, which was up by Baltimore, Maryland.

But we went over it at a slow speed, and we were warned about it prior to the -- to reaching that destination, and we managed to get through it OK.

But if that train was traveling at speed and hit a kink in the rail, which is, you know, a bad situation. And that definitely could have caused the derailment.

PHILLIPS: Andrew Rydholm, don't go away; former Amtrak engineer, he used to work on this route.

Andrew, I want you just to hold tight here for a minute.

We're going to continue following this breaking news story of the train derailment. But believe it or not, we have awesome news over on Wall Street.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS) PHILLIPS: Now we're going to take you back to the breaking news story we've been following now for a couple hours: the train derailment in Kensington, Maryland.

So far no fatalities to report. One hundred and ninety people on this train, 12 crew members. It left Chicago, Illinois 7:00 p.m. last night. It was supposed to arrive in Washington, D.C. at 1:45 this afternoon Eastern time. Ten minutes before its arrival in Washington, D.C. this train derailed. We're told 11 cars have overturned.

Right now fire crews -- firefighters, police, rescue crews trying desperately to get those passengers out of those cars, treating the injured.

So far six critically injured, we're told; no fatalities. Numerous survivors escaping through windows, side doors. This all happening in Kensington Maryland.

On the phone with me right now Andrew Rydholm, a former Amtrak engineer. He's worked on this route. He's on the phone with us from Florida.

Andrew, we were talking a little bit about how the heat can cause these tracks to buckle. I want to talk more about that.

But first of all, as an Amtrak engineer you worked on this route. Tell us exactly what you did.

RYDHOLM: I was a locomotive engineer. I operated the train between Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is where the engineer and conductors go to, and then another crew takes over from there and takes the train further west.

PHILLIPS: OK, so put us in the mindset, then, of the conductor of this train.

Can you see a problem? If, indeed, these tracks did buckle due to the heat, can you see that coming? What does a -- what can a conductor see? What does he or she do?

RYDHOLM: Actually, it's the engineer that's up front on the -- handling the locomotive. The conductor generally rides back in the passenger coaches or -- of the train. So the engineer would be the person -- and on that route they have an assistant engineer that works along there too. And you have, you know, quite the bird's-eye view out of the front of the locomotive.

But from what I can see from the pictures on TV it looks like they were coming around a curve there.

I know the top speed on that line is 79 miles an hour for that train. But you don't reach that speed, only on very few occasions, because it winds its way through Maryland and then through West Virginia and out through Western Maryland. So I'm not sure of what the speed was on that particular curve right there, because I haven't worked that route since '96. But even at 60 miles an hour or 40 miles an hour, if it was coming around the curve and there was a buckle in the rail, if the rail doesn't break then, it won't drop the signal. And if the rail were to actually break in half, it would cause the signal system to drop to a stop position.

PHILLIPS: Now, the signal system, is that the warning system?

RYDHOLM: Well, it's the signal system that engineers and conductors use to go by as they are operating a train over the tracks.

You have a clear signal, which is usually a green signal, or can be a position signal, which would be a position light, which might be three lights straight up and down, or a stop signal, which would be a stop signal, which is a red signal, or a position signal which is three lights that are straight across sideways.

PHILLIPS: OK, we have been talking with Andrew Rydholm, former Amtrak engineer. He used to work on this route.

Andrew, I have to thank you very much for schooling me on the role of an engineer versus a conductor. I'm learning minute by minute here of the proper positions of those who operate trains like this.

Andrew, thank you very much for your time.

We're going to continue to follow this derailment in Kensington, Maryland, after a quick break. Stay with us.





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