Surveillance video strongly suggests Amtrak 188 derailment due to overspeed

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.

The curve at Frankford Junction is limited to 50 mph, or was as of 2009.

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.

(Acknowledgments for this post go to @sandypsj, @sunnyswords, and @apocalypsepony for helping double check my arithmetic.)

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