Tags: Amtrak Derailment | Newsmax Now | Deborah Hersman | NTSB | investigation | Amtrak

Ex-NTSB Head: Amtrak Crash Investigators Need Engineer to Talk

By    |   Wednesday, 13 May 2015 04:23 PM

With train speed emerging as a possible culprit in Tuesday's deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, and an engineer on board reportedly not talking to police, accident investigators will need the cooperation of that and every other crew member, says a former top federal transit safety official.

"It's really critical to get the perspectives of crew members," Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from 2009 to 2014, told "Newsmax Now" co-hosts Miranda Khan and John Bachman on Newsmax TV on Wednesday.

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"We're very thankful that they survived," Hersman said of the crew of five. The NTSB investigation is their "opportunity ... to give their side of the story, to help safety," said Hersman.

Investigators will want to know what exactly was going on inside the locomotive cabin, with the engineer and others, before and during the derailment, said Hersman, but she cautioned that in rail accidents it is "generally it's not just one thing" but "a string of things" to blame.

She said investigators on Wednesday are spending critical daylight hours scouring the crash site for as much visual and "perishable" evidence as they can collect before the wreckage has to be cleared and service resumed in the heavily traveled Northeast corridor.

"They're going to be really locking down the evidence — the perishable evidence, " said Hersman, now president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

"They want to make sure they're downloading those [black box data] recorders, documenting the scene, and really doing the things that they need to do to clear up that track because it's such a busy corridor," she said. "They want to get it back in service."

The New York-bound passenger train at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday with 243 passengers and crew aboard. Seven are confirmed dead, some passengers are still listed as missing, and among the scores taken to nearby hospitals are at least six with critical injuries, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the train appeared to traveling more than 100 mph as it approached the sharp curve where it derailed.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, also citing unnamed sources, reported that the train's engineer declined to talk to police and left a detective station accompanied by a lawyer.

"This is actually a high-speed corridor," Hersman said of the Philadelphia-New York route. "But there will be sections where there will be lower speeds: Curves are one area where there might be a lower speed."

She said investigators "will be looking at what's the optimal speed, or what's the speed limit, and how was the train operating."

Hersman described an array of experts and specialists who will have already converged on the scene to interview crew members and railway dispatchers, do video and black-box data analysis, and examine features such as track curvature and the condition of underlying rail beds.

"And then you've got mechanical teams who are going to look at the cars," she said.

"They're going to look at the wheel sets and the bluing of the brake shoes. There's all sorts of forensic work that's going to go on really in these first 48 hours of the investigation."

"Railroading is a very capital-intensive industry," said Hersman, citing the costs for everything from cars and tracks to the hanging "catenary" — the overhead electrical systems that provide power.

"These are highly traveled trains," she said of Amtrak's Northeast corridor workhorses.

"You've got more passenger trains coming through here — not just inter-city Amtrak trains, but also commuter trains."

However clean and intact the cars might look after 10 to 15 years in service, she said, they still require a lot of attention.

"It's important to maintain them," she said. "It's important to inspect them and it's important to invest."

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With train speed emerging as a possible culprit in Tuesday's Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, and an engineer on board reportedly not talking to police, accident investigators will need the cooperation of that and every other crew member, says an ex-NTSB chief.
Deborah Hersman, NTSB, investigation, Amtrak
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2015-23-13
Wednesday, 13 May 2015 04:23 PM
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