29 Hurt in Kansas Amtrak Derailment

Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2000


Workers place a derailed car back on the tracks

AP/Orlin Wagner

CARBONDALE, Kan. (AP) An Amtrak train heading for Los Angeles derailed before dawn Wednesday alongside a cornfield, injuring 29 passengers one critically.

``We heard a loud noise, we started rocking and went over,'' said Richard Gray, 51, of Aurora, N.Y., who was in a sleeper car that overturned. ``It was kind of eerie when the bottom is up.''

Sixteen cars of the Chicago-to-Los Angeles train carrying 140 passengers and 15 crew members went off the track shortly after 2 a.m. near Carbondale, about 15 miles south of Topeka in eastern Kansas.

One passenger remained hospitalized Wednesday afternoon in critical condition. The others were treated and released.

Amtrak spokeswoman Debbie Hare said five passenger cars, including two sleeper cars, were lying on their sides. Another passenger car remained upright. Ten cars carrying mail and other light freight also derailed.

The cause of the derailment was not immediately known, and personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board were at the scene within five hours.

The 27-car Southwest Chief had left Chicago at 3:20 p.m. Tuesday. The cars derailed early Wednesday as the train was coming out of a gentle curve, Hare said. She said she did not know how fast the train was traveling.

``I was scared. I was afraid we weren't going to make it,'' recalled 13-year-old Jerilyn Kemmerer of Overland Park, Kan., who was in a sleeper car with her family. ``The window was broken and I could feel the gravel coming in.''

At first light, work crews began clearing the tracks during sporadic rainfall but had no estimate about how long it would take.

A year ago Wednesday, Amtrak's City of New Orleans train slammed into a truck loaded with steel at a crossing in Bourbonnais, Ill., killing 11 people and injuring more than 100. The truck driver, who received a 60-day license suspension after the crash, claimed the crossing's warning bells, lights and gates activated after he was on the tracks.

Meanwhile in Texas, 11 people were injured Wednesday when a vintage excursion train collided head-on with another train just south of downtown Forth Worth. The injuries appeared to be minor. The Tarantula Train was carrying 148 passengers and a crew of seven when it was partially knocked off the track.

The cause of the accident remained under investigation.

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