Two died and 37 were injured Sunday when an Amtrak train struck a maintenance vehicle on the Northeast Corridor tracks in Chester, rail officials said.
The collision disrupted Amtrak service for hours, with limited service between Philadelpia and Wilmington being restored by 2:30 p.m., as well as shutting down SEPTA service on the Wilmington/Newark Line.
Officials say Amtrak Train 89, operating from New York to Savannah, Ga., struck a backhoe that was on the tracks at approximately 7:53 a.m. Sunday morning near Booth St. in Chester, causing the lead engine of the train to derail. The two people killed were Amtrak employees, said Aigner Cleveland, spokeswoman for Chester mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. They were on or near the maintenance vehicle when struck, said Ruth Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. No passengers were killed in the accident, and none of the 35 hurt suffered life-threatening injuries. Trains travel in that area as fast as 110 mph, authorities said.
During a brief press conference Sunday Amtrak officials declined to comment on why one of their vehicles was on the track while trains were traveling the route. SEPTA, which leases parts of Amtrak's rail system, received notification about track work being conducted on that stretch of rail, spokesman Andrew Busch said, but were told the maintenance wouldn't cause any service disruptions.
Digital First Media photographer Pete Bannan caught this image of a wheel from the backhoe that was struck by the train:
According to Amtrak, there were 341 passengers and 7 crew members on board. SEPTA buses were transporting uninjured passengers to Wilmington Sunday morning.
Allyson Aborn of New York City described the accident as "a crash and then a wall of fire outside the window."
She said she hurt a knee but planned to continue on to Washington, D.C., where her son was "having a baby as we speak."
Beth Blakely, 36, of Philadelphia, was on her way to visit family in Maryland when she felt a jarring impact that like a car's head on collision, she said. She was surprised how long the train continued moving after the crash.
"Why aren't we stopping?" she remembered thinking. "What was going on? What was all this stuff flying past the train."
Officials said the impact with the maintenance vehicle took place in Chester City, but the train continued moving for another mile before coming to a stop in Trainer.
After the crash panicked passengers in her car, the second from the front, rushed to the rear of the train. A few passengers insisted on getting off the train immediately, but most waited on board for about an hour before being evacuated, she said.
At Trainer United Methodist Church, not far from the collision, passengers waited, some wrapped in Red Cross blankets. Blakely was among them until a friend came to pick her up. She recalled people there calling family and friends to let them know they were okay.
"There were a lot of scared and frustrated people," she said.
In Wilmington customers swamped a Greyhound station across the street from the train station as word spread about the crash. Travelers piled into Uber cars with strangers, looking to share the costs of a trip to their destinations. Similar crowds filled 30th Street Station.
Former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes was also a passenger on the train, but walked away from the incident unharmed, according to C-SPAN.
Individuals with questions about their friends and family are asked to contact Amtrak's Emergency Hotline at 800-532-9101.
Officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are at the scene and are investigating the incident.