The 20-member National Transportation Safety Board go-team that’s been rushed to the scene of the deadly train derailment in Washington state will scour data and interview those on board.
The Amtrak train’s speed is among the factors federal investigators will study. The train was traveling at more than twice the speed limit for the section of track it was on, the NTSB said.
The train – making its inaugural trip on modified track – derailed Monday morning near DuPont, spilling 13 of 14 cars and leaving three confirmed fatalities, officials said.
Amtrak said it will cooperate with the NTSB and all authorities. “At this time, we will not speculate about the cause, and we encourage others not to speculate as well,” the company said in a statement.
NTSB Investigator in Charge Ted Turpin has been on site since Monday afternoon and the full investigative team will be there Tuesday morning.
Here’s some of what the NTSB will study:
Speed of the train
The train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to NTSB spokeswoman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr.
Most of the route was graded for a maximum speed of 79 miles per hour; the speed limit on the curve where the crash occurred is 30 miles per hour, said Rachelle Cunningham with Sound Transit, which owns the tracks.
Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said positive train control was not activated on the Cascades service track at the time. The system – which combines GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor trains and stop them from colliding, derailing or speeding – was still being implemented, according to Sound Transit spokesperson Geoff Patrick.
PTC is federally required to be implemented nationwide by December 2018. The target date to have PTC operational on the segment of track involved in Monday’s derailment is the second quarter of 2018, according to Patrick.
The so-called black box, or event data recorder, should provide plenty of answers to questions, CNN transportation correspondent Rene Marsh told Brooke Baldwin. It will have information on the train’s speed, braking and other operational data, said Quimby.
The NTSB has retrieved the data recorder from the rear locomotive, Dinh-Zarr said. There is also a recorder in the front locomotive, but that will take longer to access given how damaged the car is, Dinh-Zarr said.
Mechanics of the train
Marsh said the NTSB team will focus “very closely on the track. Was there something wrong with this track? The mechanics of the train, was it operating properly?”
John Hiatt, a former railroad engineer who investigates incidents for a law firm, said he would have expected the cars to be farther from the track if speed was the principal factor. He wondered whether the train suffered a track malfunction.
Railroad signals also will be examined.
The federal go-team will interview the engineer, conductor and the other three crew members.
“A very long list of information, everything from how much sleep they got the night before to what they ate this morning, any medications they may be on,” said Marsh.
Emergency radio transmissions between the conductor and the dispatcher were dramatic:
Dispatcher: Hey guys, what happened?
AMTRAK 501: Uh, we were coming around the corner to take the bridge over I-5 there, right north into Nisqually and we went on the ground.
Dispatcher: …Is everybody OK?
AMTRAK 501: I’m still figuring that out. We got cars everywhere and down onto the highway.
Marsh said investigators will want to know whether the crew was familiar with the new route. Deborah Hersman, former chairman of the NTSB, told CNN that the crew would have been made familiar with the route’s terrain, topography and speed limits.
Condition of the track
The Washington State Department of Transportation said it had received grants to improve a stretch of freight and military transport tracks for passenger use. The bypass rerouted passenger trains from a waterfront line to a shorter line that ran along I-5.
“Today was the first day of public use of the tracks, after weeks of inspection and training,” the agency said in a statement.
CNNs Emily Smith, Javier De Diego, Janet DiGiacomo and Eric Fiegel contributed to this report.