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Problem with track may have led to Amtrak derailment in Kansas that injured 32 (+videos)

NTSB Answers Questions About Train Crash

By Oliver Morrison
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By Oliver Morrison

A problem with the railway track may have caused Monday’s derailment that left 32 people injured, two of which were critical, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Amtrak train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago and carrying 145 people when it derailed just after midnight Monday.

131 passengers on board

14 crew members on board

Rex Beemer, assistant emergency manager for Gray County, talks about the Amtrak train that derailed early Monday morning near Cimarron. It was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago, Amtrak said in a statement. More than 30 people were hospitalized

Eight of the train’s nine cars derailed about 15 miles west of Dodge City.

Eight of the train’s nine cars derailed as the train was heading east to its regular stop in Dodge City.

Passengers waited nearly 12 hours in Cimarron before boarding buses for a five-hour trip to Kansas City and transferring to a train bound for Chicago.

Earl Weener, member of the NTSB, said he and other representatives of the board will be in Cimarron for a week to investigate the derailment but won’t release findings during the investigation.

He said he walked the tracks Monday.

“The tracks got very torn up, so there are an awful lot of pieces laying out there,” he said.

He said the track may have been inspected on Thursday. Nonetheless, he said, something was wrong with the track and that the engineer noticed a deformity with the rail before pulling the emergency brake.

He said a track misalignment is possible because the first car could make it through but could have damaged the tracks further.

“Once you get the heavy cars through, the lighter cars don’t have quite the same tracking capability,” he said.

Local authorities said they were checking whether a vehicle crash may have damaged the track before the train accident.

Weener said he and the board would inspect video from the front of the train but could not immediately release the video to the public.

He said he believed the speed of the train was within the 60-mph limit for passenger trains.

First-hand accounts

Passenger Antonio Taylor said that just before the accident, the train felt as if it were going faster than it normally had been throughout the trip.

He was talking on the phone with a friend when he and other passengers noticed the train car in front of theirs start to shake.

“I stood up,” he said. “I was trying to see what was going on, and then it just tipped over. Everybody started falling on top of me, and I was just trying to get up.

“We felt the bumps, a lot of bumps, and then you see a lot of shaking, a lot of people crying everywhere. Chaos.”

He said his back was severely bruised.

By Oliver Morrison

Walter Sanders, also a passenger on the derailed train, said he heard clicks from the train tracks before the cars moved side to side and then tipped over.

“This older woman just flew straight past me and my sister and hit the window – passed out,” he said.

Walter Sanders, a passenger of the derailed Amtrak, said he heard clicks from the train tracks before the cars moved side-to-side and then tipped over. “This older woman just flew straight past me and my sister and hit the window – passed out,” he

He said people were “crawling around, people panicking. I’m trying to help her, she’s passed out. But I really didn’t want to touch her, because I didn’t know how bad she was hurt.”

He said people crawled through windows to get out of the derailed train.

James Dirksen, a passenger, said the accident launched him into the air and he almost landed on top of his friend.

But he said he and most people came out with just scratches and bruises.

“People remained pretty calm, surprisingly,” he said.

Passenger John Csoka describes being on the Amtrak train that derailed in southwest Kansas early Monday morning. The Chicago-bound train was carrying 131 passengers and 14 crew members on board. (Oliver Morrison/The Wichita Eagle)

John Csoka, another passenger on the train, said he was sleeping at the time of the accident and woke to the sound of the emergency brakes.

“My car, which was in front of the train, was bobbing back and forth a lot more, and then it came to a stop pretty quick,” he said. “A lot of brake smoke. I got up right away and went and looked outside and looked back and forth on either side and saw the back half of the train was on its side.”

I got up right away and went and looked outside and looked back and fourth on either side and saw the back half of the train was on its side.

John Csoka, Amtrak passenger

He said he had a flashlight with him, so he looked under the train. He said the train rested on a sideways rail – twisted horizontally instead of standing upright.

Passengers Sarah Dirksen and her daughter, Carly, talk about the train derailment outside Cimarron early Monday morning. More than 30 people were injured; they were taken to Garden City and Dodge City hospitals. (Oliver Morrison/The Wichita Eagle)

The injured

The injured passengers were originally taken to hospitals in Garden City and Dodge City. A statement from Amtrak said 29 passengers were discharged Monday morning.

Two men in critical condition were transported by ambulance to Western Plains Medical Complex in Dodge City and later flown by medical helicopter to Amarillo, Texas, the hospital’s emergency room director said. One of those victims had respiratory issues and the other had a head injury, she said.

One person remained at Dodge City Medical Center on Monday evening in good condition.

More than 100 remaining passengers were taken to the 4-H recreation center in Cimarron following the derailment. Cots and blankets were set up, and people were offered food and coffee.

Rex Beemer, assistant emergency manager for Gray County, said McDonald’s provided breakfast. He said Cimarron Shurfine Foods provided snacks the night before.

Ashley Rogers, Gray County clerk, was at the 4-H center.

People are tired. They have just been waiting, waiting, waiting for a ride to get out of here.

Ashley Rogers, Gray County clerk

“People are tired,” Rogers said. “They have just been waiting, waiting, waiting for a ride to get out of here. Nobody seems traumatized; I just think they’re tired.”

People were going to the restroom, resting against the walls, smoking out back and asking to be taken to the liquor store.

By midday Monday, passengers filled two Dodge City Community College charter buses bound for Kansas City. An Amtrak employee was going around with a clipboard writing down names.

“Ready to get home, ready to get home, man,” said Nick Owen, a passenger.

“It’s been a long night,” he said right before loading his luggage and getting on the bus.

Kansas City-bound

Dave Wetmore, spokesman for Dodge City Community College, said the city contacted the college midmorning to ask whether it had buses available to drive passengers to Kansas City.

“Fortunately, this week is spring break, so we had two activity buses available,” Wetmore said, referring to buses usually used for the college’s sports teams.

Wetmore said the buses would drop off passengers at Kansas City Union Station and that the passengers would travel from there to Chicago.

At the scene of the derailed train on Monday afternoon, tractors and trucks lined the tracks.

A man from a derailment service sat in one of the tractors, waiting, he said, for authorities to finish their investigation so he could help lift the train.

Contributing: Associated Press

Other recent Amtrak derailments

▪ Oct. 5: A passenger train headed from Vermont to Washington, D.C., derailed when it hit rocks that had fallen onto the track from a ledge. The locomotive and a passenger car spilled down an embankment, derailing three other cars and injuring seven people.

▪ May 12: Amtrak Train 188 was traveling at twice the 50-mph speed limit as it entered a sharp curve in Philadelphia and derailed. Eight people were killed and more than 200 were injured when the locomotive and four of the train’s seven passenger cars jumped the tracks. Several cars overturned and ripped apart.

▪ March 9, 2015: At least 55 people were injured when an Amtrak train bound from North Carolina to New Jersey derailed after colliding with an oversized tractor-trailer that was stuck on the tracks in Halifax, N.C.

▪ June 23, 2014: An Amtrak train hit a vehicle that was apparently driving on train tracks in Massachusetts, killing three people in the vehicle and derailing the train just before midnight in a remote area about 24 miles southwest of Boston. None of the 180 people on board the train was injured.

▪ Oct. 21, 2012: About a dozen passengers and crew members on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Pontiac, Mich., were injured when two locomotives and one or more coaches derailed after the train lost contact with the track near Niles, Mich.

▪ Oct. 2, 2012: Two cars and the locomotive of an Amtrak train carrying about 169 passengers derailed after colliding with a semitrailer in California’s Central Valley. At least 20 passengers suffered minor to moderate injuries. The train was traveling from Oakland to Bakersfield.

▪ June 24, 2011: A truck slammed into the side of an Amtrak California Zephyr train at a rural crossing 70 miles east of Reno, Nev., killing six people and injuring dozens. The train was traveling from Chicago to California.

Kansas derailments

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated two previous Amtrak derailments in Kansas – one in Melvern in 1974 and one in Lawrence in 1979.

Melvern

▪ The Melvern derailment injured 87 passengers and 15 employees.

▪ A weak track and stressed nail caused a broken rail.

▪ The rear six cars flipped on their sides when the train reached a turning point at 77 mph.

Lawrence

▪ The Lawrence derailment killed two people and injured 69.

▪ Three locomotive units and 17 train cars were derailed.

▪ The engineer did not slow the train when it reached a turn.

▪ A speed restriction sign was missing.

▪ The automatic train stop equipment was broken.

▪ The engineer was unfamiliar with the route and did not meet the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company’s qualifications to operate the route.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board

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