Missouri Amtrak Derailment: Death Toll Climbs as NTSB Investigation Begins

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MENDON, Mo. — Federal investigators arrived in Missouri Tuesday to determine what led to a collision between an Amtrak train and a dump truck at a rural railroad crossing that left four dead and more than 100 injured.

A team of 16 National Transportation Safety Board investigators begin their investigation into the factors that led to the accident and derailment – the second fatal collision between a passenger train and a motor vehicle at an unmarked level crossing in two days.

Missouri State Highway Patrol officials said Tuesday that a third passenger on the train died in a hospital from injuries sustained in the derailment, bringing the death toll to four. An occupant of the dump truck was also killed. Authorities said around 150 people were taken to 10 hospitals for treatment of injuries ranging from minor to serious.

The Southwest Chief train was en route to Chicago from Los Angeles when it derailed while carrying 275 passengers and 12 crew. The injured passengers were airlifted to hospitals in Columbia and Kansas City, Mo., about 100 miles southwest of the crash site.

Eight cars and two locomotives derailed in the collision, with the cars rolling onto their sides.

At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derailment in Missouri

Amtrak pledged to support the NTSB’s investigation, saying it continues to help passengers who stayed overnight at nearby schools and other shelters. The railway said in a statement that passengers are being rerouted to their destinations on trains or buses.

Passengers on the train said they were thrown several meters before climbing onto suitcases and seats to pull themselves, family members and others off the train.

Tom Fistere was one stop away from completing his 6,000 mile journey across the country when he heard a loud bang on Monday.

“I just knew we had a problem,” the retired emergency medical technician said. “I looked to the side, looking ahead, and saw a cloud of dust, which means I knew we had hit a vehicle. I’m used to working in the emergency services and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t live without it.’ »

An Amtrak off-road train derailed in Missouri on June 27 after hitting a dump truck, injuring several passengers. (Video: Rob Nightingale via Storyful)

Fistere took the two-week trip as a retirement gift for himself. He said he considers himself lucky because he was on the right side of the dining car and seated behind a table, which acted as a seat belt.

“At first I thought we were just starting to slow down. I thought it was a little loud, but maybe we’d stay up,’ he said. “And then we tipped.”

After the train came to rest on its side, he exited through a slightly ajar door and jumped four feet off the ground. Before escaping, he helped evacuate the dining car and waited inside with someone who needed medical attention. Fistere waited seven hours for his family to leave Minneapolis to pick him up.

“I’ll probably get on a train eventually,” he said, “but not right away.”

NTSB President Jennifer Homendy said Monday night that investigators are seeking information from Amtrak about whether the train has forward-facing or inward-facing cameras to see how the incident unfolded on the tracks. tracks and inside the locomotive. Investigators are also trying to get recorder information about the speed of the train at the time of the derailment.

Homendy said the NTSB will also review information about the rail line, owned by BNSF Railway, and the crossing itself.

Investigators will focus in particular on the unmarked crossing where the collision occurred. This followed an incident on Sunday in which three people in a sedan were killed about 20 miles west of Stockton, Calif., when the car attempted to cross in front of an Amtrak train.

In the past decade, three major Amtrak derailments have resulted in the deaths of 14 passengers, including an accident in Montana last fall.

More than half of those victims were traveling on a Northeastern Regional train that derailed in Philadelphia in 2015, Amtrak’s worst accident in more than 20 years. The train derailed after hitting a 50 mph to 106 mph curve, killing eight people and injuring more than 200. NTSB investigators concluded the engineer believed he was entering the curve that followed, where the speed limit was 110 mph.

Less than three years later, three people were killed and 65 injured when an Amtrak train making its maiden trip on a new service from Seattle to Portland, Oregon derailed near Dupont, Washington. The Amtrak Cascades 501 train was crossing an overpass when it derailed, overturning cars on one of the West Coast’s busiest freeways. The engineer entered a 30mph curve too quickly due to inadequate route and equipment training, an NTSB investigation has concluded.

Both crashes have sparked investigations and new calls for the automatic braking system known as positive train control (PTC), which was implemented across all railways last year. The NTSB said the Washington State and Philadelphia crashes could have been avoided if PTC had been installed.

NTSB investigators are still working to determine the cause of a Sept. 25 derailment in Montana. The Empire Builder train was en route from Chicago to Seattle with 141 passengers and 17 crew.

Train derailments are rare and, according to experts and federal rail incident data, they are also becoming less common.

Amtrak derailments account for about 2% of all rail derailments involving the nation’s major railroads — a small share in part because passenger operations account for only a fraction of rail traffic nationwide.

Over the past decade, Amtrak has averaged 24 derailments per year, according to data reported to the Federal Railroad Administration. That number is down from the roughly 43 derailments that occurred each year over the previous decade.

The vast majority do not cause injury or death, according to the FRA Safety Analysis Office. Most are the result of track-related factors, mechanical or human, such as misaligned switches, track problems, speeding, and problems with snow, ice, or mud on the tracks. .

According to an analysis by the Eno Center for Transportation, the two leading causes of death on U.S. railroads are trespassing on railroad property and trains colliding with vehicles. These fatal incidents have trended upward since 2012, reversing decades of progress, the report said.Safer railroading: a guide to a targeted safety policy.”

Trespassing and incidents at level crossings account for less than a third of safety incidents reported by the railways, but are responsible for 97% of fatalities, according to the Eno report. Infrastructure legislation passed last year could improve rail safety, industry leaders say, with $5 billion for rail improvements and safety grants, plus $3 billion additional dollars for improving grade crossing safety.

Late Monday, in a school auditorium near the site of the Missouri derailment, Loralai Kruid sat quietly in the back of the indoor bleachers waiting for Amtrak officials to arrive. The recent high school graduate was exhausted.

It had been six hours since she crawled out of the wreckage of the train and called her parents. She had boarded the train before noon Monday in Kansas City, Mo., with high school classmates who were traveling to Chicago to attend the National Leadership Conference for America’s Future Business Leaders.

“It was unreal,” she said hours later with her parents, who drove 135 miles from Kansas. “That’s the last thing you would think would happen.”

In the scramble to escape the mangled train, she lost her wallet — and with it, her new University of Kansas student ID and a driver’s license that arrived in the mail last week. “But luckily I only lost my wallet,” she said.

Russell Clarke, 24, woke up with a start after a week of work as a ranger while hiking more than 70 miles on a Boy Scout ranch in New Mexico. The Eagle Scout was in a train car with 16 other Scouts and eight adult Scout leaders trying to get home when the train hit the dump truck.

“I was sitting on the right side, so I didn’t have very far to fall,” Clarke said. “I was sleeping when it happened. I didn’t have my shoes. I lost my glasses, so I couldn’t see anything. And there was blood on my hands. Eventually, after another passenger found his glasses and shoes under his seat.

Clarke said he pulled two people out of a train window and helped someone onto the bus.

Also on the train was Blaine Bessemer, who was taking his 24-year-old son Brent on a three-week adventure to see the United States. The trip, a birthday and graduation present, began two weeks ago in Atlanta. The plan was to drive through New Orleans, Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Denver and Kansas City before heading to Chicago, Boston and New York, then Atlanta.

They never made it to Chicago.

“I knew something was wrong when the engineer hit the brakes hard enough. Then a split second later – bang,” Blaine Bessemer said as he sat near the top of the stands. from Northwestern High School.” It was a very strong hit, like a bomb. And then there was a pause, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ »

The train then lifted off the tracks and crashed sideways, throwing other passengers on top of it.

Bessemer climbed over the seats and toward the emergency window, which was originally across the aisle but now faced the sky. Passengers struggled to open the window, he said, until he found the release cable. He looked outside and saw seven of the eight wagons on their sides.

“That’s when I started bringing people out, like my son and anyone who wasn’t really hurt. There was a woman behind me who was seriously injured. She was lying right next to my seat,” he said. “The guy who fell on me when the train passed, he was bleeding a lot from his head and he was bleeding from his nose. He said he broke his nose.

Bessemer got out and saw 25 or 30 other people perched on top of various train cars, saving the other passengers by dragging them out of the windows and then driving them to the side of the overturned train cars. Bessemer said he worked alongside a farmer who ran to the train to help.

When first responders appeared, Bessemer said he helped carry people on rear panels of the train to the yard area through the tracks. They waited for a bus to take them to Kansas City, where they hoped to catch a flight to Boston for the July 4 weekend before heading home.

George, Lazo and Laris reported from Washington.

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