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Derailment Investigation Focuses on Switch Tampering

August 14, 1992

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) _ The engineer of an Amtrak train that derailed because of a tampered switch said an emergency signal three miles before the switching point indicated no trouble ahead, an investigator said.

As a result of the vandalism, the train careened onto a siding and jumped the track Wednesday evening, injuring at least 74 people, authorities said. Four were hospitalized, including the engineer.

Chris Hart, the National Transportation Safety Board member heading the investigation, said investigators found a pair of bolt cutters along with metal shavings that might be from a lock on the siding switch.

″The switch was broken in such a way as to suggest it was tampered with,″ Hart said. ″We haven’t found the lock yet.″

NTSB investigators called in the FBI after finding evidence of tampering.

James Talley, an FBI agent, said evidence of sabotage was found but wouldn’t elaborate.

Hart said the switch had been opened at an angle that would divert traffic from the 79 mph main line to a 15 mph siding.

At a news conference Thursday night, Hart said the engineer reported a green signal for the main line three miles before the switch point.

He said investigators verified the connection between the switch and the signal was working properly.

A train traveling in the opposite direction safely passed the switch about an hour before the derailment.

The tracks had been inspected Aug. 10, and the switch had been used the day before, Hart said.

The switch is tied electronically to a control monitor at CSX Transportation Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla. CSX owns and maintains the tracks.

A controller should have been able to see if the switch was out of place, Hart said. It wasn’t immediately known whether the controller knew of the tampering.

The train - an engine, a dining car and four coaches - was within 10 miles of the Newport News station on a run from New York City when it derailed.

The engine was left partially on its side and wedged in an embankment, while the other cars remained upright.

Amtrak said the train carried 187 people; the NTSB said it was carrying 127 people and that 79 were injured.

None of the injuries was life-threatening, said Lynn James, a Newport News Fire Department spokeswoman.

The train’s engineer, Milton Womble, underwent surgery to repair cuts to one ear, said Beth Suiter, spokeswoman at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News. Womble was in good condition.

The accident occurred about 150 yards from where the Amtrak Colonial derailed in April after slamming into a dump truck crossing the track. The truck driver was killed and 57 of 94 people on the train were injured.

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