Five people were seriously hurt and 264 people were taken to hospitals with less severe injuries Wednesday morning when an Amtrak train from Washington slammed into a local commuter train.
Wednesday's accident occurred during the morning rush hour as Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority train No. 906 was carrying commuters from suburban Stoughton. It was stopped in Back Bay Station when Amtrak train No. 66, the Night Owl, derailed on a curve 500 feet outside the station and struck the engine of the commuter train from the rear.
Among those seriously injured was the senior engineer for the Amtrak train.
The transit authority train was carrying between 900 and 950 passengers. An Amtrak spokesman, Howard Robertson, said the Night Owl averages about 90 passengers by the time it reaches Boston.
Jeff Whitesencorn of Stoughton, a passenger on the commuter train, said that the experience was "a nightmare" and that he felt lucky to be alive.
"The lights were out and the train started filling with thick, black smoke," he said. His train was in the station and had reached the platform, Whitesencorn said, "and we were able to step into the station."
Whitesencorn said he did not look back to survey the damage.
"It was so dark and smoky--believe me, I wasn't interested in looking at the wreckage," he said.
The collision turned the trains into a tangled mess of metal and left Back Bay Station reeking of smoke from diesel fuel. The accident cracked at least one support pillar in the underground station. Transit authority General Manager Thomas Glynn said that "significant structural damage" was done to the station.
There was immediate speculation that the Amtrak train must have been traveling at a high speed to cause such damage. There is a 30-m.p.h. speed restriction at the entrance to the station.
No passengers were among the five injured who were rushed to intensive care units. Four were involved in the rescue effort, and the fifth was the Amtrak engineer.
J. Beatty, general superintendent for Amtrak, said Richard Abramson, a trainee since 1987, was operating the train under the supervision of Willis Copeland, an engineer with 25 years of experience, the Associated Press reported.
Marty Rush, an Amtrak spokesman, said this was standard Amtrak procedure and the apprentice was "fully qualified" to operate the train.
The engineer and the trainee were so severely wedged into the wreckage that a "jaws of life" device had to be employed to rescue them.
Beatty said the Night Owl's crew had undergone drug and alcohol testing. The results were not released.
Within hours of the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board sent a seven-person team to the scene.
In Washington, NTSB spokesman Brent Bahler said the investigators would look into human performance, including the crews and dispatchers of both trains. Bahler said the NTSB team would also investigate how injuries were incurred, the signals given to each train and the track at Back Bay Station.
Bahler said Wednesday's crash would also be looked at "vis-a-vis a similar accident 37 months ago to the day" in the same station.
Glynn would not comment on recorders taken from the cabins of both trains, which have been turned over to NTSB investigators. The speed of the Amtrak train will be determined by analyzing cabin data.
The accident crowded the emergency rooms of eight local hospitals and treatment centers. Martin Bander, a spokesman for Massachusetts General Hospital, where the largest number of injured were taken, said most of the injuries were "typically around the head and neck." He described the majority of injuries as "not life-threatening."
The accident also caused havoc for commuters bound for the western suburbs of Boston on Wednesday evening. Most trains were rerouted.