Cayce, South Carolina is part of the Columbia metropolitan area. Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, has a metropolitan population of about a million people. With this large of a population, when Amtrak’s southbound Silver Star collided with a northbound CSX freight train in Cayce, on the south side of Columbia, there were adequate first responders and nearby hospital emergency rooms to handle the over 100 injured passengers.
The Silver Star is a popular overnight long distance train which was first inaugurated by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad on December 12, 1947. It has operated continuously from that time, as Seaboard’s second most prestigious train (after the Silver Meteor), then as a Seaboard Coast Line train, and finally as an Amtrak long distance train since May 1, 1971.
The route of the Silver Star, also known as Amtrak Train Number 91, has remained fairly constant over the decades, from New York City south to Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Virginia; Raleigh, North Carolina; Columbia, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Jacksonville, Florida; and south of Jacksonville to Tampa and Miami.
The primary maintenance base for the consists of the Silver Star is Amtrak’s Hialeah yard in Miami.
The southbound train departs New York City’s Penn Station at 11:02 a.m. daily, and the scheduled departure from Columbia, South Carolina is 1:38 a.m. Sunday morning, the day of the crash, the train was running about an hour late.
In Fiscal Year 2017, the Silver Star carried 364,300 passengers, with total revenue of $30,527,000. The average length of trip of a Silver Star passenger is 492 miles, and, on average, there are 165 passengers on the train at any given time.
The Silver Star is a single-level train and operates typically with one locomotive, four or five Amfleet II coaches, an Amfleet cafe/lounge car, two Viewliner sleeping cars, and a Viewliner baggage car. The coaches are at the front of the train, the cafe/lounge car follows the coaches, and the two sleeping cars and the baggage car are at the rear of the train.
CSX has a large auto ramp facility in Cayce. An auto ramp is where new automobiles and trucks are brought into an area on auto rack train cars, which as specially designed freight train cars to haul automobiles, SUVs, vans, and pick-up trucks. There are special unloading facilities at auto ramp facilities to drive the new vehicles off the freight train cars and into a parking lot for further local transportation.
The northbound train which was parked on a siding track leading into the auto ramp facility was an auto rack freight train, with two CSX locomotives on the front of the train. The Silver Star was incorrectly on the siding track when it collided with the CSX freight train.