The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said the two men — a conductor and a conductor trainee — had gotten off their freight train after a detector that looks for abnormalities was triggered, indicating that something was wrong with the wheels.
The crew members were trying to identify the problem and “were walking with their backs toward the approaching Amtrak train,” according to an NTSB report.
In an email to employees Wednesday, CSX Chief Executive Hunter Harrison called the incident a “tragic loss” and said the company will review “every detail” to determine whether such incidents can be prevented.
“This is truly a sad day for our company,” Harrison said. “Our sincere and deepest condolences go to the families, friends and co-workers of both men.”
LaFave, the conductor of the train, had joined CSX nearly four years ago, Harrison said. He said the young conductor was a second-generation CSX railroader. His father works as a dispatcher in the Chicago Division.
He was a native of Michigan, had studied computer systems and networking at Washtenaw Community College and had recently married and spent his honeymoon in Jamaica, according to his Facebook page. LaFave is survived by his parents and his wife, Caitlin.
Deal, a conductor trainee, had been with CSX for two years, Harrison said. He is survived by his parents, Donald and Loretta Deal.
“Jake and Stephen worked out of Cumberland, Md., and were valued members of the team,” Harrison said in the email. “An investigation is ongoing and we will thoroughly review every detail to understand the accident’s cause and determine how similar incidents can be prevented from occurring in the future.”
An NTSB official said Wednesday that it has yet to determine what communication, if any, there was between CSX and Amtrak before the crash.
Herbert Harris, D.C.’s state representative for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, told WTOP that Amtrak and CSX operate different radio systems and the CSX workers could not have warned the Amtrak engineer that they were on the tracks.
“So there wouldn’t have been any interactional communication between the crews unless CSX had notified either Amtrak or possibly the tower in Union Station that they had a crew that was either on the ground or had a train with a problem, and that may very well be one of the issues that they look into: the communication with whom, and what if any notification had been given,” Harris, who represents Amtrak engineers, told the radio station.
Police said Thursday that the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that the deaths were accidental. The NTSB and D.C. police say the investigation continues.
Amtrak train No. 175 was coming from Boston and New York to Union Station, with 121 passengers. There were no injuries on the 175 train, authorities said.
The crash happened in an area where four sets of tracks come together — two of which are Amtrak’s and two of which belong to CSX. NTSB officials said the CSX train was crossing from one track to another and the Amtrak train was on an adjacent track. The crash happened near New York Avenue and Ninth Street NE, about a mile- and-a-half northeast of Union Station near Gallaudet University, according to fire and rescue officials.
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.