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Derailed train was going twice the speed limit, says NTSB

An Amtrak train traveling from Washington to New York City derailed in Philadelphia shortly after 9 p.m. last night. Seven people have died and more than 200 were injured. The train was moving at more than 100 miles per hour on a curve with a speed limit of 50, according to the NTSB. Inspectors had reportedly checked the tracks hours earlier, finding no defects. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Seven dead, more than 200 injured, at least 10 in critical condition. The catalogue of casualties grew today in the Amtrak disaster in Philadelphia. At the same time, potentially crucial evidence began to emerge.

    Daylight brought the derailment clearly into focus: a scene of mangled metal, with all seven cars of the Northeast Regional off the tracks. Search teams were already busy, and the National Transportation Safety Board said they'd recovered the data recorders.

    The train derailed shortly after 9:00 p.m., on its way from Washington to New York, with 238 passengers and five crew members on board. They were passing through the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia when the train hit a curve and careened out of control.

  • PAUL CHEUNG, Accident Survivor:

    Suddenly, the train went dark, and then it seemed like someone had slammed the brakes, and everything started shaking. People were just kind of panicking, and I could smell the smell of smoke.

  • MAN:

    I could see the blood on people's faces. They can't move. Their knees were out. It was — so I just tried to do my best to help people get out of that car because it was smoking.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The NTSB said this afternoon the train was moving at more than 100 miles an hour on a curve where the speed limit drops to 70, then 50.

  • ROBERT SUMWALT, National Transportation Safety Board:

    Just moments before the derailment, the train was placed into engineer-induced braking, and this means that the engineer applied full emergency — a full emergency brake application. When the engineer-induced brake application was applied, the train was traveling at approximately 106 miles per hour. Three seconds later, when the data to the recorders terminated, the train speed was 102 miles per hour.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In addition, the Federal Railway Administration said inspectors had checked the tracks hours earlier, and found no defects.

    In the wreck's immediate aftermath, passengers worked in the chaos and darkness to aid others. Former Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy was among them.

    FORMER REP. PATRICK MURPHY, (D) Pennsylvania: My military training just kicked in. And I just — the guy next to me was unconscious, so I just kind of picked him and just kind of slapped him in the face a little bit, saying, hey, buddy, get up, get up. And he came to. And he was OK. And there was just a lot of blood and a lot of people.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In a statement, President Obama called it a tragedy that touched everyone in a part of the country where Amtrak is a way of life for many. The shutdown of rail service between New York and Philadelphia affected Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, serving more than 11 million people a day. That meant thousands of would-be rail-riders were stranded in Boston, New York, Washington and points in between, and searching for ways out.

  • FATEMA PETWARY, Amtrak Passenger:

    At 7:00 in the morning, they woke up us and told us about everything. And they say that, whenever you get off in Washington, D.C., they are going to bus you to New York. Now they are saying, we don't have anything to do with busses.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And as rail passengers hunted for alternative transportation, investigators hunted for answers.

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    Our mission to find not only what happened, but why it happened, so that we can prevent it from happening again.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Philadelphia police said the train's engineer declined to talk to authorities. But Amtrak's chairman pledged full cooperation with the investigation.

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