UPPER DARBY >> For the second time in a matter of months, SEPTA and federal investigators are trying to determine why one rail car slammed into another, this time resulting in 42 injuries.
A Norristown High Speed line rail car arriving at 69th Street Station slammed into a stationary car that was sitting on the tracks just after midnight Tuesday morning. Forty-one passengers and the conductor were injured. Luckily, none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening.
SEPTA and National Transportation Safety Board officials spent much of the day combing the tracks trying to determine what happened. NTSB took the lead in the probe, and a 10-man team from Washington, D.C. was due to arrive Tuesday, according to Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the federal agency.
The 40-ton Norristown High Speed Line car crashed into a similar car at the station about 12:14 a.m. Officials are trying to determine why the two trains were on the same track. More than 11,000 commuters use the Norristown line every day.
At daybreak, Upper Darby Mayor Thomas Micozzie, who had responded to the crash scene and conducted a middle-of-the-night press conference, contacted U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-1, to see what could be done to prevent accidents on the rails.
“I talked to Brady around 6:30 a.m.,” Micozzie said. “I believe this accident is attributed to speed. I want to look for ways to slow the trains down and get money from the federal transportation agency. The driver never hit the brakes. The driver pushed the other train one full train-length back on the rails. Two or three of the occupants noted it never slowed down.”
Back in February, four people were injured when several SEPTA train cars collided just outside the 69th Street Terminal. That incident remains under investigation by the NTSB.
According to SEPTA Chief Press Officer Andrew Busch, all the injuries in Tuesday’s crash are non-life-threatening.
“The train operator was released after being treated at Penn Presbyterian Hospital,” Busch said.
All 41 passengers were transported to area hospitals including Penn Presbyterian, University of Pennsylvania and Mercy Hospitals in Philadelphia, and Lankenau, Delaware County Memorial, Taylor, Springfield, Mercy Fitzgerald, Riddle, and Bryn Mawr hospitals, all in the suburbs.
SEPTA spokeswoman Heather Redfern said the Norristown line was back up and running with minor delays Tuesday morning.
Passengers said they noticed Monday night’s commute seemed different.
Raymond Woodard, told WPVI-TV, that he was riding home from work when the train crashed.
“I heard the train going real fast ... like, super-fast,” Woodard said. “And I looked up, and I saw that we’re at 69th Street and said, ‘Why are we going so fast?’ And then we just hit the train. Boom! I fell out of my chair, glass from the window shattered, I hit my head. Everybody was on the floor.”
Another passenger on board the runaway train, Ronny of Havertown, who declined to give his last name, recalled the moment of impact.
“Nobody said anything,” Ronny said. “We just went with it. Everyone was just trying to get home, we all work late shift. Everybody wants to get home.”
The ride home along the route wasn’t anything like previous rides, he said.
“They usually stop, we get on and go, but this one blew past and had to back up at Gulph Mills (station),” Ronny said. “The same thing happened in Bryn Mawr. He drove past and backed up. I was talking to a guy at Gulph Mills and, he said, ‘That’s not right, it never passes.’ And I said, ‘something’s wrong.’
“We got to the terminal and I stood up to get off and get ready to get to my bus on time, and ‘smack!’ It hit the other trolley that was parked. My face hit the wall and put a big hole in it.
“I went straight down and blacked out. It was loud and it hurt, but I can’t tell you much more than that. The driver was all banged up, and there was this one girl bleeding out of her face pretty bad.”
Ronny also commended the efforts of the medical personnel.
“The EMTs got there within four minutes,” Ronny said. “They were pretty fast, pretty responsive and everybody was real helpful.”
Upper Darby Police Capt. Thomas Johnson was off-duty when the call came in for the Emergency Medical Service disaster.
“I was driving my daughter’s friend home to Clifton Heights,” Johnson said. “Alerts started going out over the phone for an Emergency Medical Service (EMS) disaster and that sets everything in motion. I came right back and went right to the 69th Street Terminal.”
In addition to more than 20 ambulances responding to the scene, area fire departments and township police responded to the incident to assist.
“The number of potentially injured parties required the implementation of mass casualty protocols,” Johnson said. “Forty-two patients were identified and transported for hospital evaluation. All the resources of Upper Darby came together. We’ve been through mass casualty responses on prior occasions. The EMS infrastructure for this response was very good. Several EMS ambulance alarms were needed to obtain enough resources to transport all injured parties.”
According to Johnson, all the resources of Upper Darby Township came together when the mass casualty response was announced, including police and fire departments from the area, paramedics and ambulance corps from local hospitals and the county’s emergency mobile command unit.
“All across the spectrum, this is not an unusual location for us to conduct emergency operations,” Johnson said. “We’ve been through the mass casualty event response scenario on prior occasions. This one went just like expected with the plans we put in place and the scenarios that we practiced.
“The fire department and the EMS were the lead agencies on this. The police department provided the support that was necessary, crowd control and achieving the goals of the mass casualty incident.”
The mayor gave the responders high marks for the triage operation and efficiency in getting patients to hospitals for medical treatment in record time.
“We’re always training for this,” Micozzie said. “Upper Darby Township has a highly qualified team of experts. We had a train accident incident here four months ago. We’re constantly pre-planning this in the terminal with SEPTA, so the cooperation between agencies is seamless.
“I’m really proud of the responders. From the beginning they were calm, organized and non-chaotic because we train a lot.”
Traffic near the terminal was rerouted on Market Street and from Kent Road to Garrett Road from the time of the accident until 1:35 p.m.
All five Upper Darby fire stations responded, including Upper Darby No. 37, Cardington-Stonehurst No. 36, Highland Park No. 26, Primos-Secane-Westbrook Park No. 74 and Garrettford-Drexel Hill No. 20.
The Delaware County Department of Emergency Services responded with their mobile command unit. Support staff from the Delaware County Regional EMS Office and the Office of Emergency Management also responded to the incident.
Several EMS Ambulance alarms were needed to obtain enough resources to transport all injured parties. The following EMS agencies came from around the region to assist CKHS EMS assets: East Lansdowne Fire Company No.1, Darby Fire Company No.1, Lansdowne Fire Company, Yeadon Fire Company, Marple Township EMS, Media Fire Company, Radnor Fire Company, Norwood Fire Company, Swarthmore Fire Company, Tinicum Township Fire Company, Narberth Ambulance. EMS resources were led by CKHS Lt. Timothy Kelly. Police resources were directed by UDPD Lt. Glenn Gamber.
Of the patients requiring trauma center evaluation, three went to Penn-Presbyterian Hospital and one to Lankenau Hospital. The remaining 38 patients had minor injuries and were transported to the following facilities: seven to Delaware County Memorial Hospital, four more to Lankenau Hospital, three to Taylor Hospital, six to Springfield Hospital, six to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, three to Riddle Memorial Hospital, two to Mercy Hospital of Philadelphia, four to Bryn Mawr Hospital, and three to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.