Federal investigators said Thursday that data gathered from an Amtrak train carrying Republican lawmakers that hit a garbage truck near Crozet, Va., on Wednesday indicates that the engineer activated the emergency brake and the train came to a full stop 20 seconds later.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) haven't determined what caused the crash but said they are hopeful they will be able to recover footage from the train's front-facing camera, which could offer insight on whether the truck was moving at the time of impact and whether the signal system at the crossing was functioning properly.
Pete Kotowski, the NTSB's lead investigator at the site, said officials have interviewed one Amtrak crew member and hope to speak with the train engineer and truck driver in coming days. They also have interviewed four witnesses, some of whom indicated there may have been previous problems with the crossing signals.
One person was killed, and six were hospitalized following the crash in the rural community about 110 miles southwest of Washington.
Albemarle County police identified the person who died as Christopher Foley, 28, of Louisa County, a passenger in the trash truck owned by Time Disposal. Foley was one of three Time Disposal employees in the vehicle.
The Amtrak train was a charter carrying dozens of Republican lawmakers and their spouses, children and staff to an annual GOP retreat, held this year at The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
More than a dozen NTSB investigators and officials from the Federal Railroad Administration have been on the scene since Wednesday evening. Officials said the investigation could take 12 to 14 months to complete.
NTSB board member Earl Weener said investigators have no reason to believe the crash was anything other than an accident.
"At this point, it is still classified as an accident, a grade-crossing accident," Weener said.
NTSB officials said the train was traveling at 61 mph when it struck the truck. The speed limit for that area of track is 60 mph.
As part of the investigation, NTSB officials are also scrutinizing safety records for Time Disposal.
According to Kotowski, the firm had undergone six safety roadside inspections in recent years, and trucks were placed out of service two of those times, but the NTSB is trying to determine the nature of any defects found. He said officials at the company, which has been in business for more than three decades, have been cooperative.
The company announced Thursday that it had set up a GoFundMe page to help support Foley's family.
"Today at Time Disposal we find ourselves in shock," officials wrote in a post on the company's Facebook page. "Yesterday we lost an employee and a brother, his one year old son and mother of his child lost a father. . . . May he rest in peace, you will be missed by many Chris."
The two other Time Disposal employees, the 20-year-old driver and another passenger, were injured in the crash and were being treated at a hospital. Among the lawmakers, only Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) was hospitalized. He was treated for minor injuries and released.
Officials at the University of Virginia Medical Center said four victims from the crash have been treated and released. Two remain hospitalized — one in critical condition and the other in fair condition.
The segment of track where the crash occurred is owned by CSX Transportation but leased to Buckingham Branch Railroad. A spokesman for CSX said Buckingham is responsible for maintenance, signaling and managing train traffic on the line.
The crossing had gates, flashing lights and a "hump" warning sign for approaching drivers.
A spokeswoman for Buckingham declined to say whether there had been previous reports of problems with warning lights or arms at the crossing and referred all inquiries to the NTSB.
Lawmakers aboard the train said they felt a sharp jolt and then a "hard impact" that "threw everybody up in the air a little."
The crash was "loud and surprising," said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). "We saw debris go by the left side of the train. The part of the truck we [could] see was decimated. Very relieved when the train came to a stop and [was] still on the tracks."
A neighbor reported hearing a sound like a "big metal crash." Photos of the scene showed the truck with its front cab crushed and garbage strewn around it.
Lawmakers, including several who were doctors, climbed out of the train to help those who were injured.
The crash was the second for Amtrak in less than two months. In December, a Portland-bound Amtrak train making its inaugural run on a new route derailed 60 miles south of Seattle. The crash remains under investigation.
On Wednesday, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D) called for congressional hearings on the state of rail safety in the United States.
As part of their investigation, NTSB officials have asked the public to share photos or video of the crash or its aftermath. Witnesses with information to share should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.