Braking too late Both trains in motion at impact

February 18, 1996|By Marego Athans and Marcia Myers | Marego Athans and Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Carl Cannon and John Rivera contributed to this article.

Investigators combing the wreckage of a rail collision in Silver Spring that killed 11 people Friday night -- including two Baltimoreans -- concluded yesterday that both trains were moving when the crash occurred, despite earlier reports that a commuter train was stopped.

In addition, investigators said the engineer of the Maryland Rail Commuter train slammed on the brakes just before it and the Chicago-bound Amtrak Capitol Limited collided.

The MARC train had been traveling at 63 mph after it left the Kensington station and slowed to 40 mph just 15 seconds before the crash. MARC trains are permitted to travel up to 70 mph on that stretch of track.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators said last night that they were considering engineer error as a possible cause of the crash.

The fiery collision between the Amtrak train, with 164 passengers and 18 crew members aboard, and the three-car MARC train, whose passengers included 17 youths and young adults from the Harpers Ferry Job Corps Center in West Virginia, occurred about 5:45 p.m. in a snowstorm. In addition to the fatalities, there were 26 injuries.

The crash was Maryland's worst since Jan. 4, 1987, when Amtrak's Boston-bound Colonial Express hit three Conrail diesel locomotives in Chase in eastern Baltimore County. Sixteen people were killed and 170 injured.

The 11 bodies, which officials believe are those of eight Job Corps youths and three MARC crew members, were taken to the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore, where autopsies were performed yesterday. Positive identification of the bodies could take days, officials said. "The identity of these victims is going to take place with dental records and DNA," said Lt. Michael Garvey of Montgomery County's Department of Fire and Rescue.

The U.S. Department of Labor released the names of eight missing Job Corps youths last night. They included two Baltimoreans, Dante Swain, 18, and Carlos M. Byrd, 18. Two other Marylanders -- Lakeisha Marshall, 17, of Capitol Heights and Claudius Kessoon, 20, of Landover, both in Prince George's County -- were listed.

Also missing and presumed dead are Diana Hanvichid, 17, of Woodbridge, Va.; Thomas Loatman, 23, of Vienna, Va.; Karis Rudder, 17, of Elmhurst, N.Y.; and Michael Woodson, 16, of Philadelphia.

"Several young men and women who died were Job Corps trainees," President Clinton said yesterday from New Hampshire. They were working hard to better themselves, and we salute their lives as we mourn their deaths."

Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, who visited the crash site, called it "a terrible tragedy."

"That there were young people who were killed makes it all the more poignant," he said. "These young people had the deck stacked against them and yet had made a decision to make something of their lives."

Montgomery County fire officials had originally said 12 people were killed in the accident, but they revised the count to 11 yesterday. Fire officials said the first car of the MARC train, where the fatalities occurred, was engulfed in flames when emergency workers arrived Friday night. The darkness and condition of the bodies made it difficult to determine the number of fatalities.

The cause of the collision still eluded investigators last night.

The crash occurred about eight miles north of Union Station at a switch called Georgetown Junction. The MARC train, which originated in Brunswick in Frederick County and was bound for Union Station in Washington, consisted of three cars being pushed from behind by an engine. The MARC passenger cars bore the brunt of the collision.

The Amtrak train, which left Union Station about 20 minutes behind schedule, was traveling west. It had been routed onto the same track as the eastbound MARC train so the Amtrak train could pass a slow-moving CSX freight train. The Amtrak train was in the process of crossing over on a switch to a parallel set of tracks when the accident occurred, the NTSB said.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, MARC officials said that the Amtrak train, which was being led by two 130-ton diesel locomotives, had the right of way and that the MARC train was stopped at a signal. But the NTSB said yesterday that the trains' data recorders indicated otherwise.

"The data recorders indicate that both trains were in motion at the time of the accident," said John Goglia, the NTSB official in charge of the investigation.

Anthony Brown, a spokesman for the state Mass Transit Administration, which operates the MARC trains, said last night that he had heard those reports but could not confirm them. "We still haven't gotten that information" from the NTSB, Mr. Brown said.

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