By Associated Press
Speaking from the Liberty County Senior Center, where some passengers were being taken, Vandervest said it felt like “extreme turbulence on a plane.”
Residents of communities near the crash site quickly mobilized to help.
Chester Councilwoman Rachel Ghekiere said she and others helped about 50 to 60 passengers who were brought to a school.
“I went to the school and assisted with water, food, wiping dirt off faces,” she said. “They appeared to be tired, shaken but happy that they were where they were. Some looked more disheveled than others, depending where they were on the train.”
A grocery store in Chester, about 5 miles from the derailment, and a nearby religious community provided food, she said.
The passengers were taken by buses to hotels in nearby Shelby, said Ghekiere, whose husband works for the local emergency services agency and was alerted to the crash.
Photos on social media showed rail cars on their sides and passengers standing alongside the tracks, some carrying luggage. The images showed sunny skies, and it appeared the accident occurred along a straight section of tracks.
Allan Zarembski, director of the University of Delaware’s Railway Engineering and Safety Program, said he didn’t want to speculate but suspected the derailment stemmed from an issue with the train track or equipment, or a combination of both.
Railways have “virtually eliminated” major derailments by human error after the implementation of positive train control nationwide, Zarembski said.
“I would be surprised if this was a human-factor derailment,” Zarembski said.
NTSB findings could take months, he added.
Bob Chipkevich, who oversaw railroad crash investigations for several years at the NTSB, said the agency won’t rule out human error or any other potential causes for now.
“There are still human performance issues examined by NTSB to be sure that people doing the work are qualified and rested and doing it properly,” Chipkevich said.
Chipkevich said track conditions have historically been a significant cause of train accidents. He noted most of the track that Amtrak uses is owned by freight railroads and it depends on those companies for safety maintenance.