Amtrak train got turned around near Philadelphia

An Amtrak train, though not the one this story is about. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

An Amtrak train, though not the one this story is about. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

An Amtrak train bound for New York got turned around last week, inadvertently winding up at a suburban train station outside of Philadelphia.

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said today that the incident stemmed from a “miscommunication” and stressed that there was never any danger to any of the train’s 130 passengers or anyone on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority tracks used by the train.

The Keystone service train left Harrisburg, Pa., for New York City on Thursday morning. Shortly before noon, the train had a mechanical issue when leaving Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, Schulz said. So the decision was made to turn the train around and put the locomotive, which was in the rear of the train and operating normally, in the lead of the train.

That’s where things got a little wonky, according to Schulz. The train had gotten onto a stretch of SEPTA railroad to turn around, but when it was supposed to turn back the conductor and engineer didn’t communicate properly. As a result, the train kept right on going until it arrived at SEPTA’s Bala Cynwd station, a suburban stop more than five miles northeast of the 30th Street station.

“They operated the train to [the] point on the railroad when they were going to make the turn and simply failed to stop,” Schulz said. “It was a mistake.”

There was never any danger because once the train moved onto a stretch of SEPTA’s rail where it was not authorized to operate, it kept having clear signals right up until it arrived at Bala Cynwd, he said.

[UPDATE: This post originally said that the train was authorized to be on this stretch of SEPTA's rail. Schulz called to clarify that the train was only authorized to be on a certain section of SEPTA rail, and it went beyond that point during its trip to Bala Cynwd.]

“At no point at any time was anybody in any danger,” Schulz said. “The signal system and the switching system worked as it was supposed to. The signal system indicated that the railroad was clear, which it was, and everything worked as it was supposed to in terms of safety.”

The train’s passengers were taken back to the 30th Street station and moved to train 650, another train heading to New York.

Amtrak launched an investigation and held the train’s crew members out of work until they could be debriefed and given additional training, Schulz said. He declined to say if any of the crew members involved were punished or reprimanded, saying only that it was a personnel matter and it “was handled appropriately.”

This incident was first reported by CBS Philly and NBC New York.

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