The operator of the Amtrak train that derailed Sunday morning outside of Philadelphia applied the emergency brakes five seconds before striking a piece of heavy equipment on the track, federal investigators said Monday.
Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board won’t yet say why the backhoe was on an active track.
Investigators have zeroed in on the exact point where the train hit the backhoe, killing two rail workers and injuring some 30 passengers.
The Delaware County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victims as backhoe operator Joseph Carter Jr., 61, of Wilmington, Delaware, and Peter Adamovich, 59, of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. They died of blunt force trauma.
The NTSB’s Ryan Frigo said they’re still looking whether the equipment was authorized to be on the tracks at the time.
Although the train was on a straight path, the brakes were initiated just moments before the accident.
“The engineer placed the train into emergency approximately approximately seconds from the end of the recording. Speed at that time 106 mph,” Frigo said, within the speed limit.
Federal reviewers will interview surviving members of the work crew Tuesday.
The train struck the backhoe and derailed shortly after the train left Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station around 7:30 a.m. Sunday. It was heading from New York to Savannah, Georgia.
The train’s lead engine went off the tracks, but all the train cars remained upright.
It was about 25 miles away from the deadly derailment in May that claimed eight lives and injured more than 200 when an Amtrak train flew off the track after barreling into one of the sharpest curves on the Northeast Corridor. The exact cause of that incident is also under still investigation.
“There is a large amount of data to be looked at,” Frigo added.
Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor resumed regular service on Monday.
Rail safety workers said track workers are supposed to double-check their assignments with dispatchers to be sure they are not working on or around an active track.
“Typically, the dispatcher has to give very specific permission for maintenance … equipment, like a backhoe, to be on the track. They have to take the track out of service for a defined distance and a defined time period,” said professor Allan Zarembski, who teaches railroad engineering at the University of Delaware. “And then, they have to confirm that they understand it, repeat back the instructions, and only then can they get on the tracks.”
Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. of Minnesota had several employees working in the area. Loram official Tom DeJoseph said the company was doing maintenance on the ballast between the railway ties. He estimated the company had three or four people working there at a time and more at shift changes. He declined to say if any of them witnessed the crash.