42 hurt in SEPTA train crash outside Philadelphia

 JOSEPH KACZMAREK / FOR THE INQUIRER AND DAILY NEWS SEPTA officials look over the damaged train cars, Tuesday Aug. 22, 2017, at 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby Pa. According to SEPTA officials a train from the Norristown High Speed Line arriving at the transportation center shortly after midnight struck an unoccupied train car that was sitting at the station platform, injuring 42 people.
A SEPTA Norristown High Speed Line train carrying passengers ran into an unoccupied train early Tuesday inside the 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby, injuring 42 people, officials said.

The train was carrying 41 passengers and the operator when the crash occurred about 12:15 a.m., said Heather Redfern, a SEPTA spokeswoman. The National Transportation Safety Board took over the investigation Tuesday morning, said Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the federal agency. A lead investigator was at the scene Tuesday morning, and a 10-member team was traveling from Washington, D.C., to assist.

The operator is a member of the United Transportation Union Local 1594. Waverly Harris, the local’s president, said he did not have enough information to comment on the crash Tuesday morning.

Upper Darby emergency officials mobilized for a mass casualty incident after the call came in for the crash, responding immediately with about 20 ambulances. The injured were taken to eight area hospitals.

High Speed Line trains were operating between Norristown and Upper Darby on Tuesday morning, running about every 20 minutes with no express service, SEPTA said. The 13.4-mile High Speed Line moves about 11,000 people each work day, according to SEPTA route statistics, between 69th Street and Norristown. The 26 cars on the route’s fleet went into service in 1993 and 1994, SEPTA reported.

A man who said he was a passenger on the train and identified himself only as Ronnie from Havertown told YC News and other reporters at the scene that the train overshot the Gulph Mills and Bryn Mawr Stations and had to back up. Ronnie said he believed the problem was the brakes and not the operator.

At least one rider voiced apprehension about riding on the line in the wake of the crash.

“Scared. Just a little bit,” said Tyeisha Bagwell, 27, of Frankford. “Because I got to take this train every day.”

The High Speed Line is equipped with Automatic Train Control, a system that establishes safe braking distances, a SEPTA spokesman said. It was not clear Tuesday whether ATC should have been able to prevent the collision from happening.

The 69th Street Terminal was the scene of another crash in February. In that incident, a SEPTA Market-Frankford Line derailed in a rail yard when it crashed into a stopped train, seriously injuring one of the operators. An NTSB investigation into that incident is still ongoing and the train’s operator has retired, according to a union representative.

Despite its name, the Norristown High Speed Line, like the PATCO High Speed Line in New Jersey, is not a European- or Japanese-style “fast train.” Its electrified light rail trains operate on a 13.4 mile right of way with 22 stations. The line’s express trains take 26 minutes to cover the distance while making stops at 17 stations.

by Jason Laughlin & Joseph A. Gambardello - Staff Writers