Workers killed by Amtrak train were on tracks to check wheel problem

Workers killed by Amtrak train were on tracks to check wheel problem
© Greg Nash

Two freight train workers who were struck and killed by an Amtrak train late Tuesday outside of Union Station in Washington, D.C., were on the tracks to check a mechanical issue with their locomotive, according to federal investigators.

The CSX train, which was headed to Washington from Baltimore, received an alert sometime before 11:30 p.m. about a possible problem with the locomotive’s wheels. A conductor and a trainee got out to investigate, while an engineer remained on the freight train.

“At some point, the two crossed onto active tracks on which Amtrak was operating a passenger train, which struck both employees, causing fatal injuries,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Investigators said that it is routine for an onboard system to search for potential “abnormalities” on the freight trains about every 25 miles and send notifications to dispatch if any issues are discovered.

The investigation will look into the proper protocol for CSX and Amtrak personnel to notify each other if they have workers on the tracks and whether that was followed Tuesday evening, the NTSB added.

Investigators will also download the Amtrak train’s data recorder and video recordings to determine what was visible from the cabin and how fast the passenger train was going.

The accident occurred in an area that had four parallel tracks: two that belonged to Amtrak and two CSX tracks.

The Amtrak train was in the process of slowing down when the accident occurred, according to the NTSB, and the engineer was in charge of operating its controls as opposed to an automatic process.

The speed limit is 95 mph outside of Union Station, but dips down to 35 mph as trains approach the station.

The NTSB emphasized that the probable cause of the accident would not be determined while investigators are on the scene or during the early stages of the investigation.

“Our mission here is to understand not only what happened, but why it happened, so similar events can be prevented in the future,” the NTSB said. “The investigation process is necessarily complex.”

Service was temporarily interrupted after the accident but resumed Wednesday morning, though trains are still operating under speed restrictions in the area.