Amtrak's California Zephyr train derailed near rural Russell, Iowa, yesterday, injuring at least 126 passengers and crew.
Eleven of the Zephyr's 14 cars and both of its locomotives left the tracks after the eastbound train passed through an open switch onto a side track, striking a work crane used during maintenance work to lift ties and rails. The switch had been opened to allow the work crane onto the side track and had not been reset.
"The switch was not aligned properly for the Amtrak train to continue eastward," said Yvette Brown, a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern Railroad, which owns the track.
Rescue workers at the scene took all but three of the injured by bus to the Lucas County Hospital in nearby Chariton, where nine were admitted. At least 123 persons were brought to the hospital, according to its spokeswoman, Barbara Riggs. Three more seriously injured passengers were taken byhelicopter to two hospitals in Des Moines. A passenger, taken to the Iowa Methodist Medical Center, was listed in good condition. Two Amtrak employes were taken to the Mercy Hospital.
The derailment is the most serious passenger train accident since an Amtrak crash near Baltimore last January killed 16 people and injured more than 175.
Brown said a three-man Burlington Northern work crew was repairing the eastbound main track and had just moved the work crane onto the side track when the Amtrak train struck it.
Because of repair work on the eastbound track, the Chicago-bound California Zephyr was running on the track normally used for westbound traffic, said John Jacobson, an Amtrak spokesman. The improperly set switch caused the train to shunt off onto the side track, he said.
Amtrak officials said the work crane, which sits on a railroad car, had pulled onto the side track just far enough to clear the main line.
Amtrak said the train's manifest indicated that the train was carrying 248 passengers and a crew of 22, including an engineer, fireman, conductor and two assistant conductors. Jacobson said the train may have been carrying more passengers who bought tickets en route.
Jacobson said Amtrak was uncertain whether the train derailed before or after striking the crane because the impact of hitting the switch at 59 mph, the speed limit in the area, would be enough to derail the train, Jacobson said. He added that Amtrak has not determined how fast the train was traveling.
Two locomotives and three baggage cars toppled onto their sides. The next seven passenger cars left the tracks, but remained upright, and the final four cars remained on the tracks, Jacobson said.
The derailment occurred in clear, sunny weather about 11:30 a.m.
The train had stopped previously at Osceola, west of Russell, and had just passed through Russell when the derailment occurred. Russell, population 600, is about 60 miles southeast of Des Moines.
The train, scheduled to stop in Burlington, Iowa, at 11:50 a.m., was behind schedule, Amtrak officials said. It originated in Salt Lake City, made up of three eastbound trains: the Zephyr, which originated in Oakland; the Pioneer, which originated in Seattle and the Desert Wind, which originated in Los Angeles.
A Federal Railroad Administration spokesman said the Amtrak train crew and Burlington Northern work crew had been tested for drug use. The samples were being analyzed.