Derailment Update: Investigation Begins; East Coast Travel Affected

Death toll rises to six; similarities to 1943 disaster are noted.

A crime scene investigator looks inside a train car after a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)

A crime scene investigator looks inside a train car after a train wreck, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)

[Update 7 a.m.] A press conference was held just now at Temple University Hospital; Dr. Herbert Cushing says a sixth person in the accident has died. Eight are in critical condition. Most of the injured had arm, leg, and rib injuries.

[Original 6:29 a.m.] Good morning. Here are the latest things we know about Tuesday night’s deadly derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia:

The death toll remains at 5: Six other people were said to be in critical condition; more than 140 people were taken to the hospital.

Transit around Philadelphia, and in the Northeast Corridor, remains deeply affected. SEPTA’s Chestnut Hill West line is operating with delays; the Trenton line is suspended until further notice. Amtrak, meanwhile, says: “modified Amtrak service will be provided between Washington and Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Philadelphia, and New York and Boston. There will be no Amtrak service between New York and Philadelphia, but New Jersey Transit will honor Amtrak tickets between New York City and Trenton.”

The investigation has just begun. “Neither Amtrak nor the Federal Railroad Administration has yet discussed potential causes,” Politico reports.

But one of America’s deadliest train crashes took place at almost the exact same spot in 1943. The Frankford Junction Crash killed 79 people and injured 117.

And political debates are already started: The derailment came on the eve of a Congressional hearing to cut Amtrak’s budget, and seems certain to renew the debate over infrastructure spending.

For now, stay away. USA Today reports: “Police in Philadelphia issued a statement asking members of the public not to go anywhere near the scene of the derailment to allow first responders to do their jobs.”

NBC 10 reports on the reaction by officials on the scene:

Governor Tom Wolf arrived at the scene and spoke with Mayor Nutter during another press conference shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday. Wolf said his thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the crash and all those affected.

Officials have not yet revealed the identity of the deceased victims.

“I’ve never seen anything so devastating,” said Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Jesse Wilson. “They’re in pretty bad shape. You can see that they’re completely, completely derailed from the track. They’ve been destroyed completely. The aluminum shell has been destroyed and they’ve been overturned completely.”

The New York Times on the cause:

The cause of the crash was not known. It occurred close to Frankford Avenue and Wheatsheaf Lane, near a bend in the track. Mr. Nutter said it was too early to tell whether it had played a role in the crash or if there were other factors.

“We have no idea what kind of speed there we’re talking about,” Mr. Nutter said, or “what else happened out there.”

He added, “And I’m not going to speculate on that.”

Slate, inspired by Daily News’ Gar Joseph, delves into the 1943 crash:

In that crash, 79 were killed and 117 injured when a journal box failed and an axle snapped at high speed, sending the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Congressional Limited, packed with servicemen and vacationers, catapulting off the track. According to an Associated Press story published at the time, the accident happened at Frankford and Glenwood Avenues in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood—on the same great bend of the tracks where Amtrak train 188 derailed today. In fact, the intersection of Frankford and Glenwood Avenues is only a few tenths of a mile away from the 2000 block of Wheatsheaf Lane.

Politico on the politics:

The accident comes on the eve of a House Appropriations markup for a fiscal 2016 bill that funds, among other things, Amtrak. The version approved earlier by an appropriations subcommittee contains language that would slash Amtrak’s funding to $1.13 billion, less than the roughly $1.4 billion it typically receives annually.

Democrats had already been expected to take a run at boosting the bill’s funding for Amtrak, but the debate at Wednesday’s markup is sure to take on more urgency in light of the crash, pictures of which posted to Twitter show mangled train car debris strewn across a darkened field.

More to come, obviously, including reports from survivors of and witnesses to the crash as those stories continue to emerge.