Federal investigators said an improperly-aligned switch may be to blame for a fatal Amtrak collision in Lexington County this weekend.
The National Transportation Safety Board says it is reviewing video from the train for clues on why it went into a siding where a freight train was parked. Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the switch should have been aligned so that the Amtrak train could continue straight ahead, but was instead set to go onto the siding.
“For whatever reason, that switch was, as they say in the railroad industry, ‘lined and locked,'” he told reporters at a briefing on Sunday. “Which basically means it was aligned for the train… to be diverted into the siding.”
A CSX freight train was parked on the siding at the time. The freight train’s crew was no longer there by the 2:35 a.m. collision on Sunday. Investigators plan to question the crew and dispatchers. Meanwhile, the Amtrak’s video recorder has been taken to the NTSB headquarters in Washington for review, Sumwalt said.
“We do believe that when we see the video… oftentimes, the speed will be on there,” he said. “So that will help us with that.”
So far, the NTSB has not been able to recover the trains’ event recorders due to what he called “catastrophic” damage.
Complicating the investigation is that the Amtrak train’s lead crew were killed in the collision. The Lexington County Coroner’s Office said 54-year-old Michael Kempf of Savannah, GA and 34-year-old Michael Cella of Orange Park, FL, were the two victims. Kempf was the train’s engineer and Cella was its conductor. Both were inside the locomotive when the collision occurred.
Investigators said it could take more than a year before the investigation is complete.
Palmetto Health officials said 62 injured were brought to their care. One is in critical condition while two others are listed as serious, according to Steve Shelton of the hospital’s emergency medical services.
The crash occurred southwest of Cayce, along the Charleston Highway and Pine Ridge Road intersection close to the Dixiana community.
The NTSB plans another media update Monday afternoon.