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Researchers grill train company about a deadly crash in SC

COLUMBIA, S. C. – Federal investigators on Tuesday grilled training managers about a fatal South Carolina crash that happened earlier this year, with the question of the officials with the company that owns the tracks over the changes within the company, in the months prior to the crash.

For a few hours, the National Transportation Safety Board officials questioned representatives of CSX on Feb. 4 crash near Cayce, South Carolina. The NTSB has previously said that a switch is in the wrong position, the sending of a New York-Miami Amtrak passenger train on one side of the track where a CSX freight train was parked after unloading of materials in the area.

Amtrak engineer Michael Kempf, 54, of Savannah, Georgia, and conductor Michael Cella, 36, Orange Park, Florida, were killed. More than 100 passengers were taken to hospitals for treatment.

CSX owns the tracks where the crash happened. On Tuesday, the NTSB board Chairman Robert Sumwalt questioned CSX employees about what he saw as an executive-level turmoil within CSX that may be the basis for miscommunication and lack of attention to details in the run-up to the Feb. 4 crash.

“What I saw … was a huge amount of change in a short period of time,” Matt Meadows of CSX told Sumwalt. “That caused a lot of movement in the manager positions. … A lot has changed.”

Sumwalt also shown data, the graphs show that CSX trains to move more quickly through the railway system, but the company employs fewer people. He asked CSX officials why safety is not listed as a 2017 target at a CSX shareholder report has mentioned efficiency, operating ratio, profit and growth in shareholder value.

“What is your metric for security?” he asked.

CSX representatives present at the hearing indicated that their tasks were focused on the training activities and the signal of the communication, not for business activities, so they would have to let other officers respond.

Justin Dance of Amtrak said the passenger rail company had evaluated its own safety in the months after the crash.

“What has changed is that we don’t just go through the operational practices of the host railroads,” Dance said. “We go by what is best for Amtrak, based on the risk assessment.”

At the time of the crash, automated signals that could have warned the passenger train to stop before reaching the switch to send it down the side of the road were disabled when the employees with the installation of a GPS-based system called positive train control, or PTC. Meadows said Tuesday that CSX has several safety changes since the crash, including their own employees who change track switches to verbally confirm changes with other crew members.

CSX official Jason Schroeder walked and also researchers by other changes, such as the red labels attached to all the track-switching locks while signalling systems are suspended, as during the Cayce crash.

“There is a whole barrage of things that we do that leads to the switch and make sure that they are going to be very good,” Schroeder said.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work on https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.

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