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Amtrak heart victim dies after delay

By DAVE HASKELL

BOSTON, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Amtrak was under orders Thursday to explain why a commuter rail train made two scheduled stops en route to Boston rather than get immediate medical help for a passenger who had suffered a heart attack.

The passenger, James R. Allen, 61, of Wellesley, Mass., a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, died after a nearly 20-minute delay in getting him to emergency medical personnel, officials said.

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Experts said a victim in cardiac arrest has a 50-percent chance of survival if the heart can be shocked with a portable defibrillator within 5 minutes, but that the rate of survival goes down about 10 percent every minute thereafter.

"We believe that serious lapses in judgment occurred and will work decisively with Amtrak to ensure that all necessary corrective actions are taken," said Mike Mulhern, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

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Amtrak runs the commuter rail trains under contract with the MBTA.

The MBTA ordered Amtrak to complete its investigation by the end of Thursday.

"This very serious incident requires a focused and effective response," said MBTA director of railroad operations Anna M. Barry.

The emergency began when Allen was stricken shortly before the Framingham-to-Boston train pulled into the Auburndale station in Newton about 8:50 a.m. Tuesday.

While passengers aboard the train pleaded with the crew to either get immediate help for Allen or bypass the next two stops and speed into Boston, the train proceeded to take on and discharge passengers at West Newton and Newtonville.

The train did not arrive at the Back Bay Station in Boston until 9:10, where EMS personnel began to treat Allen. He was pronounced dead at 10:14 a.m. at Boston Medical Center.

Passengers pointed out that both the West Newton and Newtonville stops were within a short distance of help from the Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

Passengers said crewmembers told them, however, that the West Newton and Newtonville stations were not accessible to emergency personnel.

Newton officials disputed that and said every ambulance, fire truck and police car in the city is equipped with portable defibrillators, and there had been no problems previously responding to emergencies at those stops.

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Because of a situation last year where the same train had to wait 20 minutes for an ambulance at a Newton stop, the head conductor decided it would be faster to continue on to Back Bay station where medical personnel would be waiting, according to assistant conductor Susan Bergeron.

Bergeron performed CPR on Allen most of the way into Boston.

Dispatchers said the crew never explained the severity of the situation, and if asked would have cleared the way for the train to proceed directly to Back Bay, or to have EMS standing by at whatever stop requested, according to media reports.

Bergeron, however, said dispatchers denied a request for the train to "high-ball" to the Boston station.

The head conductor, whose name was not released, was placed on administrative leave.

In a statement, Amtrak said it and the MBTA "are reviewing their emergency response procedures for such situations."

The Boston Herald reported Thursday, however, that until Wednesday afternoon Amtrak lacked a clear-cut policy on medical emergencies.

It was only then, the paper said, that Amtrak issued new rules requiring trains either remain in the station where the emergency occurs or, if headed to the next stop, to wait there for an ambulance.

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