I’ve seen quite a lot of nonsense being written about the engineer of Amtrak 188 lawyering up and not giving a statement to the Philadelphia Police, and I can’t let it all slide. So here’s a few words on the subject.
In the Navy (American or anybody else’s), if a ship away from the pier touches anything other than water, the ship’s captain is automatically court-martialed. The captain might be subsequently cleared of wrongdoing, but he’s definitely going to trial first. In much the same way, if a train touches anything other than rails, the engineer and conductor responsible for that train are going before a disciplinary hearing of some sort. Everyone knows this. Even if there were no possible criminal or civil jeopardy, anyone who’s been around a railroad for any length of time would know to lawyer up immediately.
Moreover, the reports of what the engineer has said, indicate that he has an incomplete memory of the crash itself; the NTSB says he activated the emergency brakes, he says he doesn’t remember doing that. That’s not evidence that the engineer is lying; the windshield of locomotive #601 is spiderwebbed in such a way that strongly suggests that it was broken when the engineer’s head struck it with considerable force. Quite honestly, I’d be surprised if the engineer could remember anything about the crash. That said, it’s still a truism that nobody in an interrogation room ever talked their way out of charges, so in the interests of justice, I’m glad that the engineer has the access to legal counsel he deserves. Because he’s going to need it.
SEPTA announced Wednesday evening that it would be moving trains and buses to Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County to meet increased demand on parallel routes, in the wake of service suspensions after the derailment of Amtrak Northeast Regional 188.
Most of the new West Trenton trains are expresses, running nonstop between Bethayres and Fern Rock TC, and running with D-stops between Bethayres and West Trenton. That is SEPTA-ese for “we don’t know how well these trains will hold a schedule, so show up a bit early and forgive us if we’re late.”
Amtrak riders can have their tickets cross-honored on the West Trenton Line, as well as the NJT bus shuttle, meaning both detour routes from New York to Philadelphia are fully cross-honoring Amtrak fares.
This comes after SEPTA ran longer trains and unscheduled extra trains on Wednesday to cope with the crowding. This new level of service is possible in part because the equipment normally assigned to the Trenton Line would otherwise be sitting idle, while SEPTA and Amtrak wait for the investigators to finish collecting evidence at Frankford Junction. Only in the off-peak hours does SEPTA have the equipment to run more trains under normal circumstances.
It is expected to be sometime next week before trains run can run on the Trenton Line again, and it is possible that the first hours or days after the reopening will only have one or two tracks available, in which case Amtrak may keep the limited operating slots for its own trains.
A surveillance video in Port Richmond caught a brief glimpse of Amtrak 188 Tuesday night, and what it saw strongly suggests that the train was well over the maximum speed for the track segment immediately before it derailed.
The video, which was obtained and broadcast by CNN, shows the doomed train pass seconds before a series of flashes from arcing electricity announces the destruction of the electric catenary:
In the event that the video is taken down, let me briefly list the critical moments:
At 9:23:40, the train comes into view, led by ACS-64 locomotive #601.
At 9:23:44, the seventh and last Amfleet I car disappears from view.
At 9:23:46, the first flash is visible.
(I am relying on the accuracy and precision of the timestamps in the video itself, but I see no reason to suspect any inaccuracy.)
An ACS-64 is 67 feet long, and an Amfleet is 85 feet. This gives a total train length of 662 feet. (The actual train is slightly longer, but we will ignore this to get a more conservative figure.) If we call the elapsed time it takes the train to pass the camera 4.5 seconds, we can convert feet to miles and seconds to hours, and come up with an average speed of 101 mph, less than 10 seconds before the derailment.
Needless to say, this is well ahead of NTSB findings, and says absolutely nothing as to why the train was going so fast, but we can say with reasonable certainty that we now know the major proximate cause of Tuesday night’s wreck.
In the wake of the derailment of Amtrak train 188 Tuesday evening, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is shut down indefinitely while investigators pore over the crash site at Frankford Junction. In addition to the disruption to Amtrak service, SEPTA and NJ Transit services that run on Amtrak’s tracks through the accident area have been suspended indefinitely. This is going to create a lot of hardship for riders for the foreseeable future, and while SEPTA has some alternate service suggestions for every Regional Rail station in the system, they tend to be rather slow, and unattractive to suburban riders who own cars and want a time-competitive trip into Philadelphia. And driving in is not really an option; not ever, and certainly not while I-95 construction is ongoing. So while SEPTA’s instructions are valid and fine as far as they go, I want to take some time to point out some of the other options available.
NJT River Line
This will be the easiest and fastest way for people coming from Trenton, including connecting passengers from New York: From Trenton Transit Center, go outside and across Clinton Avenue to the Trenton River Line station.
From the Bristol/Croydon area, go over the Burlington-Bristol Bridge (toll $2.00 westbound only, no pedestrian access), and turn right onto Broad Street for the Burlington South station. As an alternate route, take the Turnpike Bridge to US 130 south, for Florence station.
From River Wards and Tacony going to New York, take the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (toll $2.00 westbound only). Drivers have a straightforward path down River Road to Route 73/Pennsauken station, while the few hardy cyclists and pedestrians who try this and who don’t enjoy the prospect of being squished by New Jersey’s finest stroad engineering can use Temple Boulevard and Cinnaminson Ave to Palmyra station.
South Jersey’s DLRT line takes an extra half hour or so compared to SEPTA, but is quite inexpensive: a flat $1.50 all the way from Trenton to Camden. From Walter Rand Transportation Center, connect to PATCO or a NJT bus to Center City Philadelphia. BE AWARE that the River Line has a late start and an early last run, to maintain temporal separation from freight traffic on the line. (It also takes the River Line a while to run end-to-end, so starting up and shutting down take time.)
SEPTA West Trenton Line
For many others, especially those with destinations in West or North Philadelphia, the SEPTA West Trenton Line will be the next best option. There is an NJT bus that connects West Trenton station with Trenton Transit Center, but it runs peak hours only, so use that at your own risk. Passengers connecting to and from NJT may want to co-ordinate and share cabs. Since station parking lots will be oversubscribed all along the line, park-and-ride customers should probably consider backup parking locations, especially Oxford Valley and Neshaminy Malls. Both malls have an mediocre but serviceable bus connection to the West Trenton Line: Oxford Valley to Langhorne via the 14, and Neshaminy to Neshaminy Falls via the 58. Neshaminy Mall to Neshaminy Falls station should be walking distance, but Bristol Road is narrow and fast and has no sidewalks, so I can’t recommend it in good conscience.
SEPTA Local transit
If you’re coming into the city from Torresdale, Holmesburg, Tacony, or Bridesburg, then congratulations, your local bus service doesn’t entirely suck. Busing to Frankford Terminal and picking up the El is not the most fun thing in the world, but it will have to do for now.
SEPTA Chestnut Hill Lines
The Chestnut Hill West Line does not run through Frankford Junction, but it is suspended for now due to sharing an electrical circuit with the accident site. If they manage to turn on the power to Hill West before the NTSB releases the site, that will be a big boon to the Northwest, but as long as it’s down, riders should switch to the Chestnut Hill East line or to local buses. CHW riders should keep a close eye on SEPTA news sources for updates.
Atlantic City Line passengers, who have been blissfully immune to the vagaries of PATCO’s frequently-altered schedules, should prepare to connect at Lindenwold. Have nextpat.co bookmarked to keep track of the mess. Pennsauken riders should take the River Line to WRTC and connect via bus or PATCO.
Riders not on the suspended lines who have a marginal decision between two transit options should be aware of how their commutes may be affected by crowding and associated delays. Park-and-ride customers who live roughly halfway in between the West Trenton and Warminster Lines may want to ride Warminster this week. Not many LaSalle University students take the Chestnut Hill East line at Wister, but for those who do, the 18 bus to Olney Terminal may be particularly attractive for the rest of the week, and so forth. SEPTA probably doesn’t have much in the way of rolling stock trapped on the Trenton Line, but checking that hasn’t been anybody’s priority yet.
According to initial reports, Amtrak train 188 has derailed at or near SHORE interlocking, near Frankford Avenue and Wheatsheaf Lane in North Philadelphia. Former Congressman Patrick Murphy has tweetedphotos from the inside of a cafe car that has rolled on to its side, showing injured passengers and first responders at the scene.
SEPTA Trenton and Chestnut Hill West service is suspended indefinitely, as is Amtrak service on the NEC between Philadelphia and New York. NJT hasn’t made an announcement suspending the Atlantic City Line, but I assure you it’s also closed west of Pennsauken.
I will update this post as information comes in.
Update 22:30: Police sources are saying this may have been a collision between the Amtrak and a freight train; it is not yet clear what basis they have for saying this. Freight is a common sight at SHORE, since it acts as the sole gateway for freight rail between South Jersey and the rest of the country, with the exception of the NJT River Line in the off-hours. Conrail Shared Assets stores freight cars in a small yard a short distance from the junction.
Update 23:30: Amtrak reports that 238 passenger and 5 crew were on board. ~50-60 have been taken to local hospitals, another ~15 “walking wounded” are on a SEPTA bus at the scene awaiting transport.
Update 23:45: Mayor Michael Nutter confirms five deaths and six critically injured. 120 firefighters and 200 police responded to the scene.
Update 0:00: CSX confirms that none of its trains collided with anything or were otherwise involved in the derailment of Amtrak 188. SEPTA is saying the Trenton Line will be suspended indefinitely, and they expect that to last throughout the day on Wednesday.