By Jarrett Renshaw
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Federal investigators said on Wednesday that preliminary data showed an Amtrak train in Philadelphia was travelling at more than 100 miles per hour, or roughly twice the speed limit, when it derailed, killing seven people and injured more than 200.
The National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) disclosure came as investigators pored over video footage and data from the black box aboard the train that crashed late Tuesday. The NTSB has said it was also focusing on the condition of the tracks and equipment, crew training and the performance of the five-person crew, in addition to the train's speed.
Passenger rail service along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the country's busiest with 12 million passengers a year, was shut down immediately after the accident at about 9:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0130 GMT Wednesday), leaving travellers scrambling for alternatives. The derailment also snarled commuter rail services that share Amtrak tracks in the Philadelphia area and beyond.
About 15 hours after Amtrak No. 188 jumped the track, rescue workers sifted through the twisted metal and other debris. 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 Mayor Michael Nutter said at an afternoon news conference that seven people were confirmed dead, but authorities had not yet accounted for everyone aboard. He said rescue teams expanded the search area out of fear that some victims may have been thrown from the train when it derailed.
"What we have to do today is make sure we're searching every car, every inch, every thousands of square feet to find or locate individuals who may have been on that train," Nutter said.
Hospitals in the area reported treating more than 200 people, city officials said. Authorities believe 243 people, including a crew of five, were on board, but they were still trying to confirm the number.
Officials did not provide a figure on the number of injured, but Nutter said the train's engineer was among them. Nutter said the engineer was treated at a local hospital and later gave a statement to police.
He said he was mistaken when he said earlier that the train's conductor had given the statement to police.
The wreck was the latest in a series of rail accidents on heavily travelled passenger train routes over the past year, raising new concerns about the state of the country's ageing rail infrastructure.
The crash and Amtrak funding were likely to come up during a session of the House Appropriations Committee, which was meeting on Wednesday to discuss the transportation budget for the next fiscal year.
"LIKE A SECOND FAMILY"
Vice President Joe Biden, who represented the state of Delaware - south of Philadelphia - in the U.S. Senate for years, expressed shock and sorrow.
"Amtrak is like a second family to me, as it is for so many other passengers," Biden said in a statement. He estimated taking some 8,000 Amtrak trips to and from Washington during his career.
One of the people killed was a midshipman on leave from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, an academy spokesman said. He said the identity of the midshipman was being withheld for 24 hours until family was notified.
An Associated Press video software architect was also among those killed. Jim Gaines, a 48-year-old father of two, had attended meetings in Washington and was returning to his home in Plainsboro, New Jersey, when the train derailed Tuesday night. His death was confirmed by his wife, Jacqueline.
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.
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 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 and injured 117 others, according to the National Railway Historical Society.
Tuesday's derailment left travellers along the Washington-to-New York corridor scrambling to find 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, Laila Kearney and Ryan McNeill in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman, Curtis Skinner and Frank McGurty; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
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