The driver of a trash truck appears to have maneuvered around rail crossing safety gates and onto the tracks, putting him and his two passengers into the path of an Amtrak train carrying GOP leaders, federal safety officials said in a preliminary report released Wednesday.
One person, a passenger riding in the truck, was killed in the collision in Crozet, Va., and several others were injured in the Jan. 31 incident.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said the train was traveling about 61 mph when the engineer hit the emergency brake. The train struck the left rear of the trash truck, causing it to spin counterclockwise and hit a railroad signal bungalow. Two passengers were ejected from the truck, which came apart, leaving a field of debris.
Video from the train’s front-facing video camera showed that the gates were down as the crossing came into view and the truck was on the tracks. Witnesses told investigators that the truck had entered the crossing after the gates had gone down.
The special Amtrak train was carrying dozens of Republican lawmakers, staff and family members to an annual retreat held this year at The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Some lawmakers, including several who are doctors, climbed off the train and attempted to help those who were injured. Among the lawmakers on the train, only Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) was hospitalized. He was treated for minor injuries and released. Three Amtrak employees also were injured.
The impact of the collision caused the front axle of the lead locomotive to derail; however the train remained upright.
Albemarle County police identified the person who died as Christopher Foley, 28, of Louisa County. He was a passenger in the trash truck owned by Time Disposal. Foley was one of three Time Disposal employees in the vehicle. The company set up a GoFundMe page to help support Foley’s family.
Lawmakers aboard the train said they felt a sharp jolt and then a “hard impact” that “threw everybody up in the air a little.”
The crash was “loud and surprising,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said following the crash. “We saw debris go by the left side of the train. The part of the truck we [could] see was decimated. Very relieved when the train came to a stop and [was] still on the tracks.”
The crash is one of several involving Amtrak under investigation. In December, a train derailed outside of Seattle, killing three and injuring about 100 people. And earlier this month an Amtrak train hit a parked freight train near Caycee, S.C., killing two people. Investigators have said a misaligned switch sent the Amtrak train onto a side track where the freight train was parked.