UPDATE: Further details and clarification of incident added.
- An Amtrak passenger train carrying nearly 150 people collided with an empty CSX freight train at approximately 2:45 AM Sunday near Cayce, South Carolina, the Associated Press reported. According to authorities, the Amtrak conductor and engineer were killed in the collision, while an additional 110 were injured.
- Amtrak Train 91 was heading south from New York to Miami when it came "in contact" with the CSX freight train, derailing the lead engine along with several passenger cars. The CSX train was on a diverted bypass track, but a mechanical rail switch had been padlocked to direct traffic onto the same side track, sending the Amtrak train directly into the CSX train, per the Wall Street Journal. It remains unknown why the switch was aligned the way it was.
- The CSX train experienced a fuel leak as a result of the crash, with 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled as crews are working to secure the area, according to Fox News.
The collision marks the second for Amtrak within the past week and third within the past two months.
On Jan. 31, a train traveling in Virginia struck a garbage truck, killing one sanitation worker. The crash gained national notoriety due to Republican Congress members traveling on the Amtrak train.
In December, an Amtrak train traveling at excessive speed near Tacoma, Washington, jumped tracks on an overpass before dropping the locomotive and passenger coaches onto the highway below, killing three, with an additional 100 people injured. This incident again brought to light the issue of positive train control (PTC), which Amtrak's president said was not in use at the time of the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board has begun its investigation into the cause of Sunday's crash in South Carolina. According to Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the alignment of the switch will be critical to determining the cause. If PTC, or lack of it, is found to be a factor, it may intensify pressure on regulators to quickly implement and enforce the safety feature.
The Amtrak train was traveling on a track owned and operated by CSX, according to Sumwalt. Furthermore, the signal system was reported to be down, with dispatchers and CSX responsible for controlling the switches on the bypass, according to Amtrak Chief Executive Richard Anderson, per the WSJ.
CSX is in the midst of transition following the death of CEO E. Hunter Harrison in December. James Foote, longtime colleague of Harrison, was named the new CEO on Dec. 22, 2017. Along with facing the challenges of implementing Harrison's Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) model, the company announced in January that they would be laying off approximately 2,000 employees in 2018. The Surface Transportation Board (STB), already concerned about the health of the company due to customer complaints, will likely continue to closely watch the company.
CSX tweeted after the crash, saying its personnel were on site assisting local authorities, with "more details to come."
An incident involving a CSX train and an Amtrak train occurred today in Cayce, SC. CSX personnel are on site to assist state and local authorities, who are responding to the incident. More details to come.— CSX (@CSX) February 4, 2018
CSX's response to this crash — and Foote's leadership specifically — will be crucial to the company's viability in 2018, as well as to bolster trust in the rail industry. Business downturns will happen and companies must respond, but addressing physical risk to maintain personnel safety now shifts to the forefront.