The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) disclosure came as investigators pored over video footage and data from the black box aboard the train that crashed late Tuesday.
The NTSB has said it was also focusing on the condition of the tracks and equipment, crew training and the performance of the five-person crew.
Passenger rail service along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the country’s busiest with 12 million passengers a year, was shut down immediately after the accident at about 9.30pm on Tuesday (2.30am Irish time), leaving travellers scrambling for alternatives. The derailment also snarled commuter rail services that share Amtrak tracks in the Philadelphia area and beyond.
About 15 hours after Amtrak No 188 jumped the track, rescue workers sifted through the twisted metal and other debris. One of the seven cars landed upside down and three were tossed on their sides, while passengers and luggage were sent flying, survivors said.
Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter said at an afternoon news conference that seven people were confirmed dead, but authorities had not yet accounted for everyone aboard. He said rescue teams expanded the search area out of fear that some victims may have been thrown from the train when it derailed.
“What we have to do today is make sure we’re searching every car, every inch, every thousand of square feet to find or locate individuals who may have been on that train,” Nutter said.
Hospitals in the area reported treating more than 200 people, city officials said. Authorities believe 243 people, including a crew of five, were on board, but they were still trying to confirm the number.
Officials did not provide a figure on the number of injured, but Nutter said the train’s engineer was among them. Nutter said the engineer was treated at a local hospital and later gave a statement to police. He said he was mistaken when he said earlier the train’s conductor had given the statement.
This is the latest in a series of rail accidents on heavily travelled passenger train routes over the past year, raising new concerns about the state of the country’s aging rail infrastructure.
The crash and Amtrak funding were likely to come up during a session of the House Appropriations Committee, which was meeting yesterday to discuss the transportation budget for the next fiscal year.