RENO, Nev. (AP) — A semitrailer plowed into an Amtrak passenger train Friday in rural Nevada, killing the truck driver and at least one person on the train and injuring about 20 others who escaped the fiery crash, authorities said.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Oakland, Calif., said most of the injuries were not life threatening. He said 204 passengers and 14 crew members were aboard the California Zephyr en route from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., about 300 miles west of the crash site.
The big rig ran into the train around 11:25 a.m. Friday at a crossing on U.S. 95 about 70 miles east of Reno, said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Lopez. About 20 people aboard the train were taken to hospitals in Reno and Fallon, but he didn’t know the extent of their injuries.
Dan Davis, spokesman for Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, said two people were in critical condition, four were in serious condition and three were in fair condition.
Amiee Fulk, spokeswoman for Banner Churchill Community Hospital in Fallon, said more than 10 people were treated in its emergency room, but she was unsure whether any were admitted into the facility.
“We’re seeing the typical kinds of injuries you see in an accident like this — blunt force trauma, fractures, abrasions, lacerations and internal organ injuries,” Davis told The Associated Press.
Lopez said the railroad crossing gates and warning lights were working. Witnesses told authorities that the truck didn’t seem to attempt to stop at the crossing and crashed through the gate. The driver was the sole occupant of the semi with two empty gravel trailers behind it.
Amtrak passenger Jim Bickley told Sacramento, Calif., television station KXTV that the tractor-trailer hit the fourth car on the train.
Two of the cars caught fire, Lopez said, and the fire was under control before 2 p.m.
Passenger Abel Ortiz, 42, of San Jose, Calif., said at the time of the accident he was sleeping on the side of the car that was struck. He was returning from a trip to Richmond, Utah, with his family.
“As I looked up, I saw the train being ripped up. It created an opening in our car,” Ortiz told the Lahontan Valley News & Fallon Eagle Standard newspaper in Fallon. “I saw the flames come over the windows of the side, like a quick flash of flames. Then smoked filled up everything. There was some screaming.”
His 13-year-old son, Aaron, said the flames startled him.
“I thought I was sleeping but I said this isn’t a dream,” he said. “I was scared. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the scariest), this was an 11.”
Passenger Monte Mentry, 75, of Sebastopol, Calif., also boarded the train in Salt Lake City.
“The train rocked, and I was bouncing up and down in the seat (after the collision),” he recalled. “Everything in the luggage rack came down.”
Amtrak said anyone with questions about the passengers could call 800-523-9101.
“We are saddened by any injury and appreciate the emergency response by local and state agencies,” Amtrak said in a statement.
The National Transportation Safety Board said its investigators were on the way to the scene.
Among other things, investigators will look at the truck driver’s driving and medical records, as well as autopsy results to determine whether any drugs were involved, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson. They’ll also check to make sure railroad lights and crossing gates were working, he added.
“These are all standard things we’ll be looking at,” Knudson said. “Our goal is to finish accident investigations within 12 months, but it’s dependent on workload and resources.”
Two or three busloads of uninjured passengers were taken to a Fallon elementary school, where arrangements were made to transport them by bus to their destinations.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval praised emergency responders, and visited with passengers in Fallon.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families,” the governor said in a statement. “(My wife) Kathleen and I will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”
It was uncertain how the accident would affect train traffic on the Union Pacific Railroad’s main east-west line across Nevada, UP spokesman Aaron Hunter said. About 20 to 25 freight trains use the line daily.
“It’s too early to know how long this line will be blocked by this incident,” Hunter said. “We have an alternative route to the north, but it takes longer to reach destinations on that route.”
The accident shut down a section of U.S. 95 between Interstate 80 and Fallon. The tracks cross the highway about three miles south of I-80 in the heart of the Forty-Mile Desert, which was considered one of the most difficult sections of the entire overland journey by California-bound, covered-wagon pioneers in the 19th century.
by Martin Griffith, AP Writer (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)