Friend of conductor killed in Amtrak crash reflects on safety concerns

Friend of conductor killed in Amtrak crash reflects on safety concerns
Michael Cella

CAYCE, SC (WIS) - The friend of the Amtrak conductor killed early Sunday morning when the train he was operating collided with a freight train is speaking out.

34-year-old Michael Cella died Sunday morning along with the Amtrak train engineer, Michael Klempf. Michael Callanan, a friend of Cella's, told WIS he's struggling to come to terms with the loss of his friend.

"He was very soft-spoken and most of the time he had a smile on his face," Callanan said. "He was a family man. He didn't stick around when he got done with work, he put his stuff in his bag and went home. He had two small children and had just bought a house."

Callanan and Cella met in 2008 when they were both hired by Amtrak. They trained together and worked together in Jacksonville, Florida. Callanan said the Jacksonville crew is small and close-knit, adding he can't imagine the pain they're enduring.

"I knew the crew was from Jacksonville and that they had passed away," he said. "But when I heard it was Mike it was very emotional because he's a very nice guy."

Callanan said while the investigation is in its early stages, he fears Amtrak and CPX will begin playing the blame game.

"They'll point their fingers at each other because there's no accountability," he said. "I want his legacy to be that they improve safety on the railroad because of what happened Sunday."

A former conductor himself, Callanan doesn't understand how the Amtrak train ended up on the same track as the freight train.

"All of those tracks are in blocks," he said. "The blocks are monitored by the dispatcher and the screen turns a certain color when there's a train occupying the other block. So I don't understand how another train could have gotten inside the block and struck the CSX train."

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