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Investigators Say Missed Communication May Have Led To Train Wreck

April 8, 1989

EMPORIA, Va. (AP) _ The Amtrak Silver Star’s engineer was not told that his train was about to switch tracks when he barreled into the switching area at about 60 mph, investigators said.

″There definitely was a misunderstanding about when the train was to switch tracks,″ said John Drake, head of the CSX Corp. regional office in Florence, S.C.

He said the company trainmaster at the switching area radioed CSX central dispatch in Jacksonville, Fla., that the train should switch back to the northbound tracks at the Trego switching area.

The dispatcher in Jacksonville agreed to the move, and the trainmaster manually threw the switch to divert the train to the northbound tracks.

Andrea Just of CSX’s Baltimore office said tape recordings show the dispatcher never notified the engineer that he was going to be switching tracks at Trego.

The derailment Thursday sent 34 people to area hospitals. The wreck caused about $1.8 million in damage to the train and track.

Gordon J. Inglis, the National Transportation Safety Board’s chief inspector, said it could be days before officials find out the exact cause of the accident. Federal authorities said all crew members have been tested for drug and alcohol use, but results were not immediately available.

The Silver Star, carrying 519 passengers, was traveling north Thursday when it was switched to a southbound track because work was being done on the northbound track. Both train engines and six of the train’s 18 cars left the track at the switching area.

Of the 34 who had minor injuries, 33 were passengers.

Clifford Black, an Amtrak spokesman in Washington, said the injuries included sore necks and backs, and minor cuts.

He said the track was reopened Friday and trains were back on normal schedule.

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