Orange Park man dies in train collision

Alex Wilson
Posted 2/7/18

CAYCE, S.C. – Two Amtrak employees, including one man from Orange Park, died on Feb. 4 after their passenger train collided with a CSX Corp. freight train and derailed.

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Orange Park man dies in train collision


CAYCE, S.C. – Two Amtrak employees, including one man from Orange Park, died on Feb. 4 after their passenger train collided with a CSX Corp. freight train and derailed.

Michael Cella, 36, of Orange Park, was working as a conductor on Amtrak Train 91, when it collided with the CSX freight train around 2:35 a.m. in Cayce, South Carolina. The freight train was parked at a loading facility in Cayce, which is just outside of Columbia. Michael Kempf, a train engineer from Savannah, Georgia, also died in the collision.

In an email to Clay Today, Amtrak Media Relations representative Kimberly Woods stated Amtrak is fully cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board, which is heading up the investigation. She said CSX is responsible for maintaining the area in which the collision happened.

“CSX maintains all of the tracks and signal systems,” Woods said. “[They] control the dispatching of all trains, including directing the signal systems which control the access to sidings and yards.”

The cause of the collision remains undetermined, but officials are focusing on a switch that was in the incorrect position. It’s believed the switch caused the Amtrak train to leave its track and enter the siding yard where the freight train was parked.

“The signal system in this area was inoperative due to signal maintenance and signal upgrades,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, in a Feb. 5 press conference. “When the signals are not operating, [trains] are able to work under track warrants, whereby the dispatcher will authorize the train to operate in a certain territory.”

Sumwalt said the CSX dispatcher would have to have given the Amtrak train clearance to pass through. However, the investigation showed that the switch that rerouted the Amtrak train was locked in the wrong position. Further investigation is required before a full cause can be determined, according to Sumwalt.

Train 91’s maximum speed between its last stop and impact was 57 mph, within the 59-mph regulation for that track, according to NTSB’s Newsroom Twitter. Prior to impact, the train’s horn was activated and the engine was throttled down to idle while emergency and air-brake systems were employed. The last recorded speed prior to impact was 50 mph.

Train 91, which operates between Miami and New York, was carrying approximately 8 crew members and 139 passengers on board, while the CSX train was unoccupied. More than 100 people were transported to hospitals after the crash, according to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

“Amtrak is working to take care of everyone who was on the train, including family members of our passengers and crew,” said Woods.


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