Feed worker likely caused Amtrak derailment in Kansas

The Wichita Eagle

A truck driver who didn’t set the emergency brakes on a truck, which later rolled downhill and crashed into the railroad tracks, likely led to the Cimarron train derailment in March, records show.

An Amtrak train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago derailed March 14 shortly after midnight. Six of the train’s 10 cars derailed, injuring 28 of the 144 people on board.

Damage on the tracks where the derailment occurred had already been tied to a truck owned by a company called Cimarron Crossing Feeders. Tire marks on scene matched the company’s 2004 Kenworth truck used to transport cattle feed.

Investigators also found cattle feed strewn on the tracks and matched fresh damage on the truck to the railroad track damage.

But records from the Kansas Highway Patrol, obtained by The Eagle through an open records request, outline the events that likely led up to the derailment, which is estimated to have caused more than $1.4 million in damage.

It was previously unclear why the truck was near the tracks. But a vehicle inspection report from Herb Bradley, technical trooper for the Kansas Highway Patrol, outlined what might have happened.

Bradley’s statement said a worker from Cimarron Crossing Feeders drove the truck to a feed mill and parked the truck on a downhill slope.

“I feel that the driver either failed to set the parking brake or did not completely apply the parking brake of the Kenworth (truck) before exiting the vehicle,” the opinion read.

He went on to say that the driver left the truck in neutral, so when he got out, it rolled downhill.

The truck broke through a fence, traveled across a pasture, through a second fence, down one ditch on U.S. 50, across the highway, and through another ditch before finally hitting the railroad bed.

The crash displaced ties and tracks on the railroad.

In his report, Bradley detailed his inspections and concluded that the truck brakes worked properly. He observed the truck for four hours while parked on a downhill slope with the brakes activated and concluded that the truck did not roll downhill because of failed brakes.

Bradley inspected the truck and didn’t find any mechanical problems that could have compromised the truck before, during or even after the accident, according to the vehicle inspection report.

Maynard Burl, feedlot manager for Cimarron Crossing Feeders, wrote in a voluntary witness statement to the Kansas Highway Patrol that the driver of the truck said the parking brakes didn’t work.

Burl said in a written statement that he got into the truck the day the truck rolled downhill and tested the parking brake twice to show the driver. It worked both times.

Pat McMonigle, an attorney representing Cimarron Crossing Feeders, did not return calls for comment.

McMonigle told The Eagle in March that he was independently investigating the series of events surrounding the derailment, but said, “I’m not at liberty to discuss any facts of the investigation at this point.”

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

By Oliver Morrison

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

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