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2 dead, 35 injured when Amtrak train hits backhoe

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CHESTER, Pa. – An Amtrak passenger train crashed into a backhoe on the track near Philadelphia, killing two construction workers for the railroad service, a source close to the investigation said.

The crash Sunday morning also left 35 people injured, the Chester Fire Department said.

It's unclear why the backhoe was on the track near Chester, just south of Philadelphia. The two fatalities were found on or near the backhoe, Pennsylvania Emergency Management spokeswoman Ruth Miller said.

The big unanswered questions: Why did the train continue its route from New York to Savannah, Georgia, when Amtrak construction workers may have been on the track? Or why didn't the construction workers move if a train was coming?

The train was carrying about 341 passengers and seven crew members when it crashed, Amtrak said. The impact caused the lead engine of the train to derail.

'Like a nightmare'

Even before the crash, passenger Glenn Hills said he knew something was wrong.

He didn't see the backhoe that lay ahead on the track. But "there was a lot of debris in the track, and we started driving through that," the Brooklyn resident said. "There was a lot of gravel noise."

But the mess wasn't confined to the track, Hills said.

"I looked outside, and it looked like we were in this brown cloud," he said, speculating that the dustiness came from construction or high winds. "We were rolling into this storm, this sandstorm."

That's when passengers started panicking.

"People are yelling at that point," he said. "There was a woman screaming a prayer."

Then the train slammed into the backhoe.

Hills said the impact didn't feel severe from the second passenger car, where he was sitting. He likened it to the feeling of a roller coaster abruptly stopping at the end of the ride -- "but scarier."

Other passengers weren't so lucky. "There was tremendous impact on the first car," Hills said. He said the roof of that car was torn open, and several windows were broken.

"It feels like a nightmare," he said. "It felt like this is that experience that I've feared in the past."

Limited service

Amtrak said it was providing limited service between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, as the Federal Railroad Administration and National Transportation Safety Board investigate.

The crash came less than a month after an Amtrak train headed from Chicago to Los Angeles derailed in Kansas, injuring 32 people.

It also came almost a year after another Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia -- one that left eight people dead and more than 200 injured.

Sunday's crash near Philadelphia made Hills consider whether he should fly more.

"I rely on Amtrak a lot, and I travel for my job in the Northeast Corridor a lot," said Hills, who works in the specialty food industry. "This incident has really fed my fears."

But is it enough to make him stop riding trains?

"Unfortunately, no. We rely on it too much in this part of the country."