A CSX Corp. conductor and a trainee were fatally struck by an Amtrak train late Tuesday night in Washington, after stepping off their own train in response to a safety alert, federal investigators said.
The two men stepped off the CSX freight train near Union Station shortly before 11:30 p.m. to check its wheels, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said at a news conference Wednesday.
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The men were on the adjacent track when they were struck by a southbound Amtrak train that originated in Boston and was carrying 121 passengers, he said. Amtrak said no one on that train was injured. Names of the two CSX crew members haven't been released.
"We have few definitive facts at this early stage," Mr. Weener said.
He said investigators will explore whether CSX notified Amtrak of the wheel check before the incident. They also will view footage from an outward-facing camera on the Amtrak train and one aimed into the Amtrak locomotive, he said.
Officials from CSX and Amtrak declined to comment on details of the incident, citing the NTSB investigation. CSX said it was "deeply saddened" by the deaths of the two employees.
The CSX train stopped after a trackside detector triggered an alert. Mr. Weener said the devices are positioned every 25 miles or so. A railroad union official said they are known in the industry as "hot box detectors" and can detect overheating of a train car's axle.
"The dispatch was notified that there was probably something wrong with one or more of the wheels," Mr. Weener said.
The train, which started in Baltimore and was carrying mixed freight in a line of railcars stretching about 9,000 feet, came to a halt so the crew could investigate, he said. The conductor and a conductor-in-training got off, while a third crew member, the engineer, stayed on the train.
Mr. Weener said the speed limit is 95 miles an hour approaching the area where the men were hit, but it drops to 30 miles an hour on the approach to Union Station. He said the Amtrak train was slowing down and that data recorders will provide a clearer picture of its speed at the time of the incident.
The incident severely disrupted rail service between Philadelphia and Washington. All four tracks in the collision area were closed until 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and trains were initially restricted to 10 miles an hour on a single track. Some trains crept out of Union Station nearly three hours late.
Alice Hunt, a minister with the United Church of Christ, arrived at Union Station 90 minutes early for a 10 a.m. train, which was delayed at least 40 minutes. She waited in a line at an Amtrak counter that snaked through the departures hall, but said the clerk had little information about when her train would leave.
Ms. Hunt, who lives in Alabama and was visiting family in the nation's capital, was on her way to Baltimore for the church's general senate. "You can't get mad. You feel horrible for the families," she said.
Laura Kusisto contributed to this article
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 28, 2017 15:01 ET (19:01 GMT)