Track problem may have caused derailment
SEVILLE, Florida (CNN) -- A track misalignment could have played a role in a deadly train derailment in northeastern Florida, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said Friday.
Four people were killed and 159 were injured when 21 cars from the 40-car Amtrak Auto Train left the tracks and folded accordion-style along a rural stretch of track.
Lead investigator George Black told reporters the Amtrak engineer was accelerating -- after stopping to allow a freight train to pass -- when he hit the brakes and initiated a full emergency stop.
"The operations group will be interviewing the crew this afternoon," Black said. "I understand that he saw some misalignment in the track that caused him to put his brakes on."
Black said investigators were also inspecting the wheels of the freight train that had used the same section of track shortly before the derailment.
"We're looking at that train just to see if there's any scars on the wheels that would indicate they ran over a stretch of rough track," he said.
Black said that all cars from the fifth car through the 25th car on the Amtrak train derailed. Two of the train's 16 passenger cars -- the two directly behind the train's two locomotives -- and the last 17 cars -- all auto rack cars -- did not derail. The engines also remained on the track.
Black said that the NTSB would consider what effect extra weight from 24 auto rack cars at the rear of the train might have had on the accident.
The Auto Train runs nonstop between the Washington, D.C., area and central Florida to transport passengers' cars, vans and motorcycles and is popular with families traveling on vacation.
Amtrak spokeswoman Cheryle Robinson Jackson said 452 people were aboard the train, which left Sanford, Florida, about 4 p.m. Thursday for its scheduled overnight trip to Lorton, Virginia. It derailed 44 miles north of Sanford about an hour later.
Jackson said 159 people were transported to hospitals with injuries, and 127 of them had been released by Friday morning. All but one of the injured were passengers. All four of the people who died were passengers.
Amtrak officials told CNN that the Auto Train unit's entire management group was on the derailed train, returning from a Florida meeting.
The Auto Train, which runs each way once per day, was canceled for both Friday and Saturday.
Amtrak officials were on hand in Florida and Virginia to help stranded passenger reach their destinations.
Stranded Florida passengers were offered vouchers on Amtrak's Silver Service, six daily trains running between Miami and New York. As an alternative, they could make other arrangements and apply for reimbursement from Amtrak.
All the Florida passengers were to receive refunds for the derailed trip, officials said.
The train derailed on tracks owned, operated and maintained by CSX Corporation, Amtrak said. CSX had inspected the tracks Thursday morning and found them in good condition, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
Black said that heat, a loose rail or a number of other factors could have caused the rails to become misaligned. But, he added, "we will not know for a while" the actual cause of the crash.
Amtrak has a toll-free number for passengers and families: 1-800-523-9101.
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