Sunday’s collision between a passenger train and a freight train that killed two people and injured more than 100 others was not the first deadly Amtrak derailment in the Midlands.
Around 5 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1991, an Amtrak train – traveling the same Silver Star route as the one involved in Sunday’s crash – veered off the main track and slammed into some idle freight cars near Camden in Kershaw County. Seven people were killed in the crash, and an eighth person died weeks later.
Miami resident Maggie Tavss was in a passenger car with seven of the victims, according to reports at the time.
“I was so close with these people in terms of physical location,” Tavss told The State a month after the 1991 crash. “They didn't make it, and I did. I haven't been sleeping. I can't sleep. I can only nap in daytime. When I go to bed at night, I can't sleep. I hear the crash as soon as I go to sleep.”
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Ronnie Pennel of Brooklyn, N.Y., referred to the Silver Star as the death train.
“I didn't think it would bother me, but in the last week or two I keep dreaming about it,” he told the newspaper in 1991. “When it did happen, I was walking over bodies. I don't like talking about it. It bothers me.”
Investigators blamed a faulty switch that had been inspected by railroad workers a day before the Silver Star jumped the track and sideswiped two freight cars, according to reports at the time.
Rhonda McColman, a secretary for the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Department at the time, was among the 600 residents who left their homes in the predawn hours to help the injured passengers, according to reports. She cried in her office with the daughter of a dead passenger.
“I don't believe I'll ever forget it,” she said at the time. “It really bears on your mind a lot. You get out and do what you have to do, and it hits you later.”
Officials blamed sketchy directions and a wrong telephone number for a slow response by emergency workers and EMS, who took more than 30 minutes to get to the wreck after the first 911 calls came in.
The crash prompted a smattering of state and federal lawsuits against Amtrak and CSX, the latter of which owned and maintained the track where the collision happened.
The most recent collision, which happened around 2:30 a.m. Sunday near Cayce, killed two Amtrak workers and injured more than 100 passengers. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board say a switch had been padlocked in the wrong direction, forcing the Amtrak train off the main track and careening into a freight train parked on a side track.
A signal system was inoperative at the time of the crash, NTSB officials have said. The system was being upgraded to prepare for the installation of “positive train control,” which would slow or halt trains when danger – such as misaligned switches or obstructions in the railway – lies ahead.