Why was a speed control system not installed at site of the train disaster?

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let's return now to the investigation into the deadly Amtrak derailment and its potential cause.

    Hari Sreenivasan picks up that part of the story.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Earlier, as we heard, investigators announced a stunning finding: Before the engineer tired braking the train, it was going more than 100 miles an hour. That's more than twice the speed limit for that part of the rail.

    Joining me now from the scene of the accident is Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board.

    So, first, I want to ask you kind of your reaction to that fact. Most people in the TV audience are going to say, well, that's why the train derailed. It was going too fast.

  • ROBERT SUMWALT, National Transportation Safety Board Member:

    Well, certainly, we want to find out why the train was going over twice the speed limit. We want to find that out.

    And then another factor is, why did the train derail? And you're right. It probably has something to do with the speed. So we want to understand the crash dynamics. We want to understand why the train was going that fast.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You and your agency have investigated several different types of accidents before. What are some of the reasons that make a train get to that speed, especially heading into a curve?

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    Well, I think one thing that will be key to the investigation is being able to interview the engineer.

    We want to find out what his thoughts were, what was going through his mind. We want to check the — very carefully, we want to check the mechanical condition of the train. We want to check the train's signal system to see what it might have been indicating. So we're taking a holistic approach. We want to look at everything and try to understand just the very question that you asked. Why was the train going that speed?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But one of the things that you mentioned earlier in your press conference this afternoon was something called positive train control. Most people in our viewing audience don't know what that is. What is it? How does it work? And why wasn't it in this specific section of track?

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    Well, positive train control is a device that will — basically, it knows what the speed limit is for the track through GPS, and if the speed — it the train is exceeding that speed, it will actually bring the train to a stop.

    It will also protect against trains running red signals and things like that. We — Amtrak has a system that they call ACSES, which is basically a positive train control system. They have got ACSES installed throughout much of the Northeast Corridor. However, unfortunately, it wasn't installed in this particular section of the track. We want to find out, why was it not here?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, Amtrak has other systems in place as well. What are you going to be able to learn from those?

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    I'm sorry. There was a truck going by right when you asked that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That's all right.

    I said Amtrak has other systems in place as well for safety. What are you going to be able to learn from those when you keep digging?

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    What are we going to be able to learn from Amtrak's other systems?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yes.

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    I'm sorry. I'm having trouble hearing and understanding.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yes. That's right.

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    So, maybe you can rephrase the question.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right.

    If this particular set of tracks didn't have the positive train control, you said Amtrak also has other systems in place on its trains. Is there any indication that any of those systems failed as well?

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    Well, when I talk about positive train control for Amtrak, that is a system called ACSES. So we want to find out why their system, the ACSES system, wasn't installed in this particular section of the track.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, you said that — you basically got here after the emergency responders got out of their way at about 2:00 in the afternoon. You just got here today. If we have this conversation again tomorrow, what are you going to be able to tell us that you just don't know today?

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    I think tomorrow will be a big day for us.

    I mean, today, you're right. We had investigators arriving on the scene at between 4:00 and 5:00 this morning. And the rest of our team pretty much got here by 9:00 or 9:30. So — but we have not been able to get up and really do extremely detailed measurements of the track, the cars, the train cars.

    We have not been able to do that, because the recovery effort's been going on. But we will begin getting in there, doing a very detailed survey of the site. We will be looking at the mechanical condition of the locomotive, of the rest of the train. We will start collecting records — or continue collecting records.

    We have got a lot to do for the next few days. I think, though, for the first day, we have gotten a lot done, but I think, tomorrow, we will have a lot more.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So what's that event recorder, the black box of the train, going to be able to tell you? You have taken it to Washington now. You're going to get all of the information over the next 24 to 36 hours. What is that going to be able to tell you?

    Also, you're probably going to have video pictures of the camera that was pointing out in front of the train, right?

  • ROBERT SUMWALT:

    Yes, we do. We do have, as you mentioned, the forward-facing video. We will take that to Washington and begin examining that, conducting analysis of that.

    The event data recorders can tell us a lot, and it's not just a matter of pressing a button and saying, tell us everything. They have to go through complex algorithms to decipher these data. That's why we don't just have every piece of information we'd love to tell you right now.

    We were very concerned about the speed, so that's why we were able to get the speed so early. But this investigation will go on for quite some time. It will be complex. But I'm confident, I'm very confident that, at the end of the investigation, we will be able to determine not only what happened, but why it happened, so that we can keep it from happening again.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board, thanks so much.

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