By Marcus E. Howard
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The backhoe operator involved in a fatal Amtrak passenger train collision near Philadelphia this month had a right to drive the vehicle on the tracks intermittently to perform maintenance work, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Monday.
The federal agency said in its preliminary report that the April 3 crash occurred during a 55-hour window when maintenance work was planned. Three other tracks, including the one used by the Amtrak train, were periodically closed during the weekend to protect the backhoe and its driver.
"NTSB investigators are confirming what roadway worker protections were in place at the time of the accident," the agency said in the report.
The report did not mention whether the Amtrak train had permission to use the track at the time of the incident.
The locomotive engineer told NTSB investigators that prior to the incident, he initiated an emergency brake application after "seeing something" on main track No. 3.
The Georgia-bound train struck the backhoe, killing the operator and another Amtrak construction worker on foot, and sending 35 people to hospital.
The accident took place about 20 miles (30 km) south of where a derailment last May killed eight and injured 43. Amtrak estimated damages of $2.2 million from the latest crash, the report said.
(Reporting by Marcus Howard; Editing by Andrew Hay)