1 Year After Deadly Amtrak Derailment, Sections of Track Still Unprotected

A year after a speeding New York-bound Amtrak train flew off the tracks in Philadelphia, killing 8 people and injuring more than 200 others, rail systems around the tri-state are still missing safety measures that could prevent other deadly derailments, NBC 4 New York has learned.

Amtrak told NBC 4 New York that a year after the deadly derailment, portions of rails controlled by the MTA are still missing computerized braking systems called positive train control that can automatically slow trains around treacherous portions of tracks. The system was cited as a preventative measure that could have slowed down the Northeast Regional train that was traveling at 106 mph before careening off the tracks. 

Around the tri-state there are several sections of unprotected tracks, and LIRR, Metro-North and NJ Transit officials say it will take until the end of 2018 to make the $1 billion safety improvements.

"There's a lot of work," said LIRR president Pat Nowakowski. 

Meanwhile, survivors from the crash are still trying to put the pieces back together. Robert Hewett said he was texting his wife, Judy, about vacation plans from his seat in the front car of Amtrak Train 188 while headed home from a work trip when the car started to tip.

He remembers being thrown from his seat and hitting the luggage rack before crashing headlong into another passenger. When he regained consciousness, Hewett was on a pile of rocks, unable to move. First responders eventually found him and transported him to a Philadelphia hospital, where he would spend the next seven weeks in a medically-induced coma.

Hewett said Thursday that the past year of his life — an endless series of doctors' appointments, physical therapy and nightmares — has been "terrible."

"I have pain 24/7," he told reporters at a press conference through labored breaths, explaining that his rib cage has not fully healed and that his lungs cannot fully expand. "The two outcomes for me were paralyzed for life, or death."

The 58-year-old BASF regional security officer spent another seven weeks in a rehabilitation center. 

Next week, federal investigators are scheduled to meet to detail the probable cause of the derailment in Philadelphia. They've said the evidence showed no issues with the tracks, signals or the locomotive and they didn't find any signs that the train had been stuck by a rock or that the engineer was using his cellphone.

The railroad has apologized for the crash and an emotional Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman told Congress afterward that Amtrak was responsible. The train's engineer has said he couldn't explain why the train kept accelerating after he applied the brake.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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