By John McDevitt

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As the National Transportation Safety Board begins its long process of looking at the cause of Tuesday night’s Amtrak derailment, infrastructure and civil engineering experts were weighing in.

Dr. Joseph Martin, a professor of civil engineering at Drexel University, says the recovered “events recorder” (commonly known as a “black box”) will show right away if excess speed was a factor in the deadly accident.

But, he notes, there are many possibilities:

“Did something drop off the train?  Did something land on the tracks?  Because the energy intensity of this — I mean, trains jackknifed — something incredible, almost like a big bang, occurred there.  The only way I can think of that is some sort of complete change of momentum in the train.  Something stopped a wheel from turning.”

Martin says the tracks are inspected daily, so he would be surprised if the investigation determined there was a problem with the track itself.

He thinks it is a mere coincidence that the Tuesday night derailment is in the same location where, 72 years ago, of one of America’s worst train crashes occurred when a journal box failed and an axle snapped at high speed.

The Federal Railroad Administration says Amtrak inspected the tracks in the area of the crash hours before last night’s derailment and found no defects.

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The speed limit along the tracks where the derailment happened lowers from 70 mph to 50 mph in the stretch leading up to the curve.

But the Wall Street Journal — citing “two people with knowledge of the investigation” — is reporting that the train appears to have been traveling at more than 100 miles per hour when it reached that tight curve, known as Frankford Junction, where it went off the tracks.

Philadelphia police officials say the engineer who was driving the Amtrak train that crashed declined to provide a statement to investigators.

They say the engineer also had an attorney when he left a meeting with investigators.  The name of the engineer has not yet been released.

 
KYW’s Ian Bush contributed to this report.