Investigators review data from fatal Philadelphia train wreck

By Jarrett Renshaw

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Rescue workers on Wednesday sifted through twisted metal and debris from the wreck of an Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia, killing six people and injuring scores of others, as investigators began reviewing data to determine the cause of an accident.

Authorities said they did not know why the New York City-bound train carrying 243 people jumped the track at about 9:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0130 GMT Wednesday). One of the seven cars landed upside down and three were tossed on their sides, while passengers and luggage were sent flying, survivors said.

Philadelphia-area hospitals and health systems reported treating more than 200 people, Philadelphia Emergency Management Director Samantha Phillips said at a news conference.

Mayor Michael Nutter said six people were confirmed dead, but authorities had not yet accounted for everyone aboard the train.

Officials did not provide a figure on the number of injured, but said the train's conductor was among them. The mayor said at the news conference that the conductor was giving a statement to police.

Officials of the National Transportation Safety Board had recovered recorders, or black boxes, from the train and were analysing data on its speed and other operational factors, Robert Sumwalt, a NTSB member, said at the news conference. He said officials were also reviewing training records of the crew.

The agency, coordinating with the Federal Railway Administration, was also focussing on track conditions, equipment and human performance, among other factors, he said.

The crash of Amtrak train No. 188, en route from Washington, D.C. with a crew of five, was the latest in a series of rail accidents on heavily travelled passenger train routes over the past year.

The train derailed in the city's Port Richmond neighbourhood along the Delaware River, near the site of a 1943 rail accident that killed 79 people.

Amtrak, a publicly funded national passenger rail line, said Amtrak service along its busy Northeast Corridor between New York and Philadelphia had been suspended indefinitely.

The crash and the issue of Amtrak funding were likely to come before Congress on Wednesday, when the House Appropriations Committee met to discuss the transportation budget for the next fiscal year.

One of the people killed in the Amtrak crash was a midshipman on leave from the Naval Academy, according to a spokesman in Annapolis, Maryland. He said the identity of the midshipman was being withheld for 24 hours until family was notified.

Dr. Herbert Cushing, Temple University Hospital's chief medical officer, said the dead suffered massive chest injuries. Most of the injured at Temple suffered fractures, he said at a news conference.

Port Richmond is a working-class neighbourhood that has recently become a popular place to live among younger adults in the city. Michael Hand, 44, who lives a few blocks from the crash, said he was outside drinking a beer at the time.

"There was a flash and then there was a big boom," he said.

In March, 21 people were injured in Los Angeles, when a commuter train collided with a car. A month earlier, 50 people were hurt and an engineer fatally injured when a Los Angeles-bound Metrolink train struck a pickup truck.

Also in February, six people were killed and a dozen injured when a commuter train hit a car stalled on the tracks north of New York City. The driver of the vehicle also died.

The Philadelphia accident occurred near the site of a train derailment at Frankford Junction in north Philadelphia that killed 79 people and injured 117 others in 1943, according to the National Railway Historical Society.

The derailment left travellers along the busy Washington-to-New York corridor scrambling for alternatives.

At New York's LaGuardia Airport, attorney Wayne Hess said he had planned to take the train back to Washington but instead booked a flight after hearing of the accident.

"It made me feel lucky because I came up yesterday," Hess said.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Kelley in Philadelphia, Ellen Wulfhorst in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman, Curtis Skinner and Frank McGurty; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)