'He Always Had a Smile on His Face:' Amtrak Conductor Who Died Remembered

Rail Safety Expert Michael Callanan gets emotional talking about the loss of his friend and fellow conductor who died in the Amtrak crash on Sunday. He goes on to criticize the safety standards for railroad transportation in the U.S.

COLUMBIA, SC - Rail Safety Expert Michael Callanan grew emotional talking about the conductor who was killed in the Amtrak train collision on Sunday morning.

Callanan said he and the conductor, identified as 36-year-old Michael Cella, were friends. They both attended the same Amtrak conductor school in 2008 and worked together in Jacksonville, Florida after that.

"He always had a smile on his face. He was a pleasure to be in class with and Mike was a pleasure to work with," Callanan said. "This really hits home."

Callanan said Cella was a family man that had two small children at home. 

Cella and the train's engineer 54-year-old Michael Kempf were identified as the two people who died as a result of the crash, according to the Lexington County Coroner's Office.

The collision happened  at 2:35 a.m., near Charleston Highway and Pine Ridge Road. Amtrak says Train 91 was operating between New York and Miami, and came in contact with a CSX freight train. The passenger line says the lead engine derailed, as well as some passenger cars.

During his talks with News19, Callanan criticized the current safety standards in place for railroad transportation. Callanan said the problems lie within the infrastructure and "the poor safety culture."

"We have two Amtrak employees dead," Callanan said. "When are these people going to wake up and do something about this?"

Callanan also talked about the immediate need for railway updates across the country, saying it all really comes down to one thing.

"They don't want to spend the money to upgrade the infrastructure and make it safe," Callanan said. "And my question to all these railroads: How are you going to put a price on a human life?"​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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