An Amtrak train carrying more than 200 passengers crashed into a dump truck in rural Missouri on Monday, killing three people and injuring dozens, authorities said. It was the second fatal accident involving rail service in two days.
Two of those killed were on the train and the other in the truck, authorities said. The exact number of injured passengers and the extent of their injuries were not immediately clear.
The train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago when it hit the truck, which was obstructing a public crossing at 12:42 p.m. near Mendon, Mo., about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City, Mo., Amtrak said. .
Eight cars and two locomotives derailed, Amtrak said, and most of the cars ended up on their sides.
Lt. Eric F. Brown of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said at a news conference Monday that the accident happened at a railroad crossing on a gravel road “without lights.”
Samantha McDonald, 21, of Phoenix, said in a telephone interview that she was traveling to Ford Madison, Iowa, in one of the last two cars on the train, when she heard a shrill noise, followed by a bong. It was her first time on a train, she said, but she always knew the sound wasn’t normal.
The dust flew inside the car. Then he tilted to the side, Ms McDonald said. She was thrown to his right, causing him to bang his head against the overhead compartment.
“I was knocked out,” she said late Monday afternoon from a hospital, where she was waiting for a CT scan.
“Everyone in the train car we were in was thrown all over the place,” Ms McDonald added.
His brother Dax McDonald, 26, said he was sitting in the right aisle of the car when he felt the train hit the dump truck. Looking out his window, he saw the cars in front of him tilting towards him, and he remembered thinking, “We’re going to turn around too.”
The car fell and he stood on what had been his side window, now pressed against the gravel.
To escape the car, the passengers climbed the seats and overhead compartments, he said.
“For older people, they basically had to wait for emergency crews to show up,” McDonald said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said he answered with other agencies. Amtrak said it also deployed its own emergency personnel to the scene to assist passengers, employees and their families. He said further details would be provided “as available”.
Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri told reporters it was a “terrible situation.”
Photos posted by Mr. McDonald on Twitter showed passengers standing on overturned Amtrak cars, helping each other, while others walked along train tracks. Another photo showed four large rubber tires on an axle near the tracks.
He later posted a photo showing passengers gathered at a high school gymnasium near the crash site.
“So grateful for the people here, safe at Northwestern High School near Mendon,” he wrote. “This city has stepped up to help everyone.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement Monday that he would investigate the derailment.
The crash came a day after another Amtrak passenger train crashed into a four-door sedan on Sunday at a level crossing without a train signal or guardrail in rural East Bay , in northern California, killing three people and seriously injuring two others including a child, a spokesman for the local fire and emergency services said.
Victims of that crash were pronounced dead at the scene, according to Steve Aubert, a fire marshal with the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. The five-car train was carrying nearly 90 people, an Amtrak spokeswoman said in an email.
The speed of the track where the train crashed in Missouri can reach 79 miles per hour, said Russell Quimby, a retired accident investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. It’s likely the train was approaching that top speed, he said, because the track was relatively straight and flat. The speed would have made it harder to stop the train – if it had even been lucky enough to be a mile or half a mile away, he said.
“Did that truck just, you know, stop in front of him, or was he stuck on the tracks?” he said. “You do not know.”
Amtrak trains typically have a camera on the windshield of the lead locomotive, and it will likely be examined by investigators, Mr. Quimby said.
There’s a crossing for about every mile of railroad in the country, and Amtrak has been trying to reduce that number in recent years, he said.
However, adding barriers or lights to these crossings can cost up to half a million dollars to install, Quimby said.
A train often does not derail when it hits a car or truck, he added. But if it’s moving at high speeds or if metal gets under the traction motors – two factors which Quimby says happened in Missouri – then it’s more likely to tilt and crash. .
“Trains can’t stop,” he said. “People and vehicles have to do it.”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.