Passengers Describe Being in Illini Derailment

Passengers who experienced a derailment of Amtrak’s southbound Illini on Sunday afternoon described themselves as shaken but otherwise all right.

Five cars of the train derailed after striking a truck at a grade crossing in University Heights, Illinois, that killed the truck driver, Richard E. Millette, 77, of Frankfort, Illinois.

Two passengers suffered minor injuries. The derailed cars remained upright.

“They were up to 70 mph and there was a loud bang. There was metal scraping. You could see metal parts flying by our window – a truck hood, tires and things like that,” said Scott Mayer of Windsor, Illinois.

“The cafe car looked like a tornado went through there,” said Mayer who along with his wife were seated in the business class section. “Everything in the cafe car was on the floor. People who were standing in the cafe car ended up on the floor on impact.

“The (train’s) cars started going into the rocks and we stopped pretty fast,” said Mayer. “The gates were down. I don’t know what happened, but (the driver of the box truck) pulled out in front of the train just before it got there at that crossing. There was nothing the engineer could do. He set the brakes and that was all he could do.”

The train was carrying 300 and they were evacuated shortly after the derailment.

Mayer said most passengers handled the incident but some were panicked and upset.

“A lot of people came together and helped one another,” Mayer said.

Jim Myers of St. Elmo, Illinois, said it was difficult to describe the experience.

“It’s hard to explain, but we could feel the train derailing,” he said. “You could feel every tie that we ran across. The car rocked back and forth a little bit. I never wanted something to stop so fast in my life. It felt like an eternity, but it was like only a minute.”

Myers said he could smell diesel and saw a lot of dust floating in the air.

“There was terror in people’s eyes,” Myers said. “People were panicked, but at the same time, they were calm. It was two emotions mixed into one. It was like something you only see in the movies.”

Myers said Amtrak personnel told passengers to leave their things behind during the invacuation, but he said he grabbed a bag.

On the ground the passengers were instructed to move swiftly and walk to a nearby gas station about a half-mile away where they would wait for buses to take them to Governor’s State University.

“Survival mode kicked in,” Myers said. “We made sure all the kids and women got off first.

“I used to ride the train a lot. But I’m not planning to ride anytime soon.”

Megan Sherman, 24, of Bourbonnais, Illinois, said an Amtrak crew member had just stopped by their seats before the train collided with the box truck about 5 p.m.

“It felt like a lot longer, but it was probably just minutes before this all went down,” she said.

Sherman said she felt their train car shudder and saw plywood fly past their window.

She then felt a second shudder as she realized the train was derailing into gravel.

Sherman said the passengers exited the train calmly and in an orderly fashion.

Some passengers were crying but were checking on the well-being of others. Sherman and her husband helped an elderly woman seated in front of them with her bags and helped her get off the train.

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