Amtrak train 188 derails in Philadelphia; 8 dead

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188, with 238 passengers and five crew members on board, derailed at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia on the Northeast Corridor, shortly after 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. Eight people are confirmed dead. More than 200 people were injured, 8 critically. 

amtrak 01 1024Train 188 was heading to Penn Station New York from Washington, D.C. Union Station. The entire train, consisting of an ACS-64 electric locomotive and seven Amfleet cars, derailed on Frankford Curve. The passenger cars separated from the locomotive. Several cars uncoupled, coming to rest perpendicular to other cars. One car (pictured) was severely damaged, its stainless steel carbody twisted and crushed, the result of hitting a catenary/signal truss structure at high speed.

Train 188 was operating at 106 mph when it entered the curve, and the Natonal Transportation Safety Board has, through initial examination of data from the locomotive’s event recorder, determined that the engineer, Brandon Bostian, made an emergency brake application moments before the derailment. The civil (posted) speed on that curve is 50 mph, prompting questions as to why Bostian was operating the train at nearly double the limit. On this particular curve, safe speed is enforced with a purposely designed manipulation of the cab signal system. Amtrak’s version of Positive Train Control, ACSES (Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System), has not yet been installed on Frankford Curve. NTSB officials have said that if ACSES had been in place, it would have prevented the derailment.

“We were rolling along nice and smooth and then all of a sudden we were on our side,” passenger Don Kelleher told NBC News.

PA Philadelphia Amtrak 2 5 12 151Patrick Murphy, a former congressman from Pennsylvania’s 8th District, was onboard, in the cafe car, when the train derailed. “It wobbled at first and then went off the tracks,” Murphy told NBC News. “There were some pretty banged-up people. One guy next to me was passed out. We kicked out the window in the top of the train car and helped get everyone out.”

The FBI said that there is nothing to indicate that the derailment was terrorism-related.

Amtrak Northeast Corridor service between Philadelphia and New York is suspended until further notice, as is SEPTA service on the Chestnut Hill West and Trenton Regional Rail lines.

Frankford Junction was the site of a similar accident in 1943. On Sept. 6 (Labor Day) of that year, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Congressional Limited, with 16 cars and 541 passengers, derailed when an overheated journal box on an older dining car that had been added to the consist burned off, causing a wheelset failure. The wreck resulted in 79 deaths and 117 injuries.

Frankford Junction is an interlocking where the four-track NEC connects with New Jersey Transit’s two-track Atlantic City Line, and with Conrail.