Amtrak train crash: Fears death toll will rise as six people 'critical' after derailment

About 238 passengers and five crew reported on board the Amtrak train travelling from Washington DC to New York

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The Independent US

A crowded Amtrak passenger train travelling from Washington DC to New York left the tracks shortly after departing a scheduled stop in Philadelphia, killing at least five. Video images showed carriages lying on their side beside the rail bed and there were reports that as many as 140 people had also suffered injuries.

About 238 passengers and five crew were reported to have been aboard the train which had left the capital towards the end of rush hour. At least three Philadelphia hospitals confirmed they were receiving injured passengers. Officials said among those injured at least six were in critical condition. Some were receiving treatment at the scene.

“We can confirm at least five individuals deceased,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said from the scene. “Seven cars including the engine are in various stages of disarray. It’s an absolute disastrous mess. Never seen anything like this in my life.”

Such was the power of the impact of the crash that one carriage had come to rest perpendicular to the other carriages.  Some of them had suffered “major” damage, officials said adding that hydraulic cutting equipment  was being employed to get some of the passengers out.  The engine was completely separated from the rest of the train.

David Hernandez, from Philadelphia, who lives near the train tracks, said it sounded like "a bunch of shopping carts crashing into each other."

He told Associated Press that the sound lasted for a few seconds. Then, he heard chaos and his neighbours started screaming.

The train crashed after nightfall impeding the rescue operation.  Police, FBI agents and medical emergency teams swarmed over parts of the wreckage as mobile Klieg lights were brought in.  The cause of the crash was unknown but possible explanations could range from a criminal act or some kind to of track or equipment failure or crew error.  The train was said to have been navigating a curve.

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“This is a nightmare and it can't be happening,” one passenger said of her thoughts as the carriage she was in at the tail of the train also fell onto its side. “This huge red suitcase just came flying at me.” She said her son had gone though the carriage helping people to get through a crack that had opened at one door.

Amtrak, the semi-private but subsidised national passenger rail service, confirmed in a statement on Twitter that the train, a Northeast Regional service, had indeed suffered an accident.  It belonged to a slower service of train that generally travels at lower speeds than the Acela, the nearest thing that the United States has to a high-speed train.

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The Amtrak passenger train with more than 200 passengers on board derailed in north Philadelphia on Tuesday

The carriages of Train number 188, a so-called Metroliner train, were mostly built in their characteristic steel bodies in the mid-1970s.   Experts consider the Metroliner carriages to be unusually solid in their construction and for that reason they hoped the numbers hurt might be lower than might have been the case with newer, flimsier models.  There was no fire on the train which was electric.

An investigation go-team from the National Transport Safety Board, NTSB, was due to arrive at the scene first thing this morning to try to determine what cause the derailment.  The train will have been equipped with a recording device not unlike the black boxes that are on aircraft.

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Such was the power of the impact of the crash that one carriage had come to rest perpendicular to the other carriages

Amtrak has struggled for years to upgrade track along the northeast corridor that links Washington with Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston. But it is hampered by high capital costs and also the fact that it has to share the clogged corridor both with suburban commuter services near the big cities and with some freight trains as well. 

The accident may refocus attention on the relative dilapidation of the US rail network as compared to those in other industrialized nations.

The crash was certain to disrupt service today on what is the busiest train corridor in the United States today and for days to come.  A recent survey showed that Amtrak now accounts for 75 per cent of all train and air ravel between New York City and Washington.

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Emergency teams at the scene of the crashed train, which was carrying 243 people

It appeared that the front carriages of the train, which is where the business class and quiet carriages were located, had taken the brunt of the damage in the crash which occurred shortly after 9pm local time. 

Among those known to have been on the train included former US Congressman Patrick Murphy and an employee of the Associated Press.  Both were posted images of the crash on Twitter. “Pray for the injured,” Mr Murphy posted.

Paul Cheung of the AP said that the front of the train “looks pretty bad” and that he saw “some people mangled up”.

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