Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak derailments’

NTSB Issues Early Report on SW Chief Crash

July 27, 2022

A preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety board into the June derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Missouri does not draw any conclusions but sets out some of the facts about the event uncovered thus far by investigators.

Investigators continue to focus on the grade crossing where a collision between Amtrak Train 4 and a dump truck triggered the derailment.

Three Amtrak passengers and the truck driver were killed as a result of the June 27 derailment near Mendon, Missouri. The NTSB report said 150 aboard the train were treated at 10 area hospitals for injuries that ranged from minor to serious.

In particular, the NTSB probe is focusing on the approach to the crossing of the BNSF Marceline Subdivision and County Road 113, also known as Porche Prairie Avenue.

Many of the facts reported in the NTSB preliminary report mirror those in news stories about the derailment.

The derailment occurred at 12:42 p.m. CDT. The Southwest Chief had 270 passengers and 12 crew members on board at the time of the derailment.

Amtrak and BNSF estimated the derailment caused damage of about $4 million.

Train 4 had two locomotives and eight cars. The crossing where the collision occurred had crossbucks and a stop sign, but no gates or flashing lights.

Investigators said the positive train control system in use was enabled and working at the time of the collision.

Train speed was 89 mph when the emergency brakes were activated. The weather was clear with no precipitation at the time of the crash.

“Future investigative activity will focus on highway railroad grade crossing design specifications, railcar design, survival factors, and passenger railcar crashworthiness,” the report said.

4th Person Dies in SW Chief Derailment

June 30, 2022

A fourth person has died following the derailment on Monday afternoon of Amtrak’s eastbound Southwest Chief in Missouri.

Three of the fatalities were Amtrak passengers while the fourth fatality was the driver of the dump truck that the train struck at a grade crossing in Mendon, Missouri, at a crossing lacking flashing lights and gates.

The incident left 150 people injured. They were treated at 10 area hospitals and officials said the injuries ranged from minor to serious.

Mendon is located about 85 miles northeast of Kansas City, Missouri.

National Transportation Safety Board officials released more information on Wednesday about the collision and derailment.

The truck involved in the incident was owned by MS Contracting LLC of Missouri and was transporting materials to a nearby Army Corps of Engineers’ project when it was struck.

Amtrak Train 4 had a consist of two P42DC locomotives and eight cars, all of which derailed.

The train was carrying 275 passengers and had a crew of 12. It was traveling on track owned by BNSF.

Trains are authorized a top speed of 90 miles per hour in the area where the derailment occurred and investigators determined that Train 4 was traveling at 87 mph at the time of the derailment.

It had slowed from 89 mph a quarter mile from the collision site. NTSB officials said the locomotive engine was sounding the horn at the time of the collision.

“We do not have concerns about mechanical issues,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy during a news conference. “We tested the brakes and there are no issues with the brakes,” she said.

Homendy said the steep grade to the grade crossing is of concern: “We have to look at the approach of this crossing. It’s very steep. There’s a lot resting on a driver to see a train at these crossings, particularly when there’s such a steep incline.”

She also indicated that the investigation would require the tracks at the derailment site to remain closed for “a number of days.”

3 Killed, 50 Injured in Southwest Chief Derailment in Missouri After Hitting Truck

June 28, 2022

Three people were killed and at least 50 injured after Amtrak’s Chicago-bound Southwest Chief struck a dump truck in Missouri on Monday afternoon.

The dead included two aboard the train and the driver of the truck.

The incident occurred in Mendon, Missouri, a town of 160 located located about 85 miles northeast of Kansas City and 12 miles southwest of Marceline, Missouri.

Authorities said the collision occurred at a grade crossing with a stop sign but no flashing lights or gates.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive on the scene Tuesday morning.

Amtrak said Train No. 4 was carrying 275 passengers and 12 crew members when it collided with the truck at 12:45 p.m. (CDT).

NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said investigators are requesting speed data on the route as well as data recorder information and camera footage from Amtrak. 

The train had two locomotives and eight cars, including a baggage car. Seven of those cars derailed with many turning over onto their sides.

Among those reported onboard two Boy Scout troops headed home to Wisconsin after spending a week at the Philmont Boy Scout ranch near Cimmaron, New Mexico.

A news report said the Scouts broke windows of the train after it derailed and helped passengers evacuate.

The Scouts used their first aid training to provide assistance to injured passengers until first-responders arrived at the site.

One Scout was reported to have sought to comfort the driver of the truck before he died.

Two of the troop leaders were injured in the derailment and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of broken bones, broken ribs and a punctured lung. One Scout also was injured.

The Boy Scout troops are from Appleton, Wisconsin.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers aboard Train 4 that departed Los Angeles on Sunday, June 26, will be re accommodated as quickly as possible on other trains or buses as available.

Train 3 that is scheduled to depart Chicago on Tuesday, June 28, will now originate at Kansas City.

The Missouri incident was the second in the past two days involving an Amtrak train striking a vehicle at a grade crossing that resulted in fatalities.

On Sunday a train in Brentwood, California, struck a passenger vehicle, killing three people and injuring two others. All five were inside the vehicle. That collision also occurred at a grade crossing with only stop sign and no flashers or gates.

Amtrak Will Pay Engineer of Cascades Service Train That Derailed in December 2017

June 9, 2022

Amtrak has agreed to pay the locomotive engineer who was injured in the December 2017 derailment of Cascades Service No. 501 in a settlement of a lawsuit that he filed against the passenger carrier.

The train derailed in DePont, Washington, as it traveled at 79 miles per hour into a 30-mph curve on the Point Defiance Bypass on Amtrak’s first day of operation on the route.

The engineer, Steven Brown, will receive money to pay him for the pain and suffering he sustained as a result of the derailment.

Brown, who is now 60, broke several bones in his face and torso during the derailment.

His attorney characterized the settlement as “large” enough to care for Brown and his family for the rest of his life.”

The attorney did not disclose the size of the settlement, which ends litigation stemming from the case involving Brown.

Three passengers aboard Train 501, which was operating from Seattle to Portland, Oregon, were killed and 57 passengers and crew members were injured.

Four cars and the lead locomotive of the train fell from a bridge onto Interstate 5, where they struck eight motor vehicles.

A National Transportation Board investigation cited one factor in the crash as being inadequate training of Amtrak operating crews before revenue service began on the route.

The NTSB report also found that although Brown had made observational rides and three training runs, the accident occurred during his first revenue run on the route.

That led the Board to conclude that the engineer had insufficient training on both the route and the equipment.

Brown told investigators he did not see a sign warning locomotive engineers to reduce the speed of their train to 30 mph before the curve.

After reviewing video and audio recordings from an inward-facing image recorder, NTSB investigators concluded that Brown was looking straight ahead at the time he passed the speed restriction sign.

The NTSB report also said an event recorder showed the engineer he took no action to reduce speed prior to the derailment.

A news account published by the Seattle Times said federal railroad law requires Amtrak to prove an employee was the sole cause of the crash or else pay compensation.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karena Kirkendoll last year granted Brown’s request to sue for damages.

Jury Awards $8M in Cascades Derailment Case

April 5, 2022

A Washington State woman has won $8 million in damages stemming from the 2017 derailment of an Amtrak Cascades train.

The award from a jury in a federal court in Tacoma includes $2.5 million for past non-economic compensatory damages and $5.5 million for future non-economic damages to Emily Torjusen of Seattle.

Torjusen was a student at the University of Washington at the time and was traveling to Vancouver, Washington. She was 20 at the time of the derailment, which killed three. The jury made the award after a four-day trial.

Evidence introduced in the case said she suffered a fractured collarbone and “major emotional and cognitive consequences.”

One of her attorneys said in a statement that Torjusen continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and post-concussion syndrome.

Torjusen was riding in the seventh car of the train at the time of the derailment.

The Dec, 18, 2017, derailment in DuPont, Washington, was attributed by the National Transportation Safety Board report to the train traveling at 79 miles per hour as it entered a 30 mph curve.

The Seattle Times reported that including the most recent jury award Amtrak has been ordered to pay more than $46 million in damages as a result of the derailment. This also includes awards of $4.5 million and $17 million in 2019, $10 million in 2020, and $6.9 million in 2021.

Ex-Amtrak Engineer’s Trial Had Long History

March 9, 2022

The criminal trial of former Amtrak locomotive engineer Brandon Bostian that ended last week in his acquittal on all charges, has a long and complex history.

In the end it came down to a decision about whether what Bostian did and didn’t do while at the controls of an Amtrak train on May 12, 2015, was a mistake or criminal behavior.

On March 4, a jury in Philadelphia deliberated for 90 minutes before acquitting Bostian of eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and more than 200 counts of reckless endangerment.

The number of counts brought in the case matches the number of deaths and injuries that occurred when Amtrak Train 188 derailed at Frankford Junction at milepost 81.62 in Philadelphia while traveling from Washington to New York.

Of the 253 aboard, eight were killed and 185 were taken to nearby hospitals for treatment of injuries.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation later determined the train was traveling 106 miles per hour as it entered a 50-mph curve.

NTSB investigators concluded that Bostian lost “situational awareness,” possibly due to being distracted by radio reports of rocks being thrown at trains in the vicinity of where the derailment occurred.

Had he been convicted, Bostian could have been sentenced to life in prison.

The prosecution of Bostian has been in and out of court since May 2017.

Initially, a Philadelphia district attorney declined to charge Bostian, saying he did not believe there was enough evidence to prove that he had consciously disregarded a “substantial and unjustifiable risk.”

A month later, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro brought charges against Bostian after families of the victims of the derailment invoked a state law that forced authorities to act.

Those charges were dismissed twice. In September 2017 Judge Thomas F. Gehret of Philadelphia Municipal Court concluded Bostian bore no criminal responsibility for the derailment because it appeared to have been an accident.

Another judge, Barbara McDermott, of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, made a similar ruling in July 2019 in dismissing charges against Bostian, ruling that mistakes he made did not constitute a crime.

In May 2020, though, Judge Victor P. Stabile of Pennsylvania Superior Court, found that Judge McDermott had improperly considered evidence that should have been considered at trial and sent the case back to a trial court for the case to be heard by a jury.

That jury was empaneled earlier this year. During closing arguments, Bostian’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, argued Bostian had become distracted.

“I explained to the jury that good people make honest mistakes every day, and it’s not criminal conduct,” McMonagle told reporters.

After the jury returned its verdicts, Shapiro said he respected its decision. Attorneys who have just lost in court often make such statements.

One fact from the NTSB investigation may have played a role in why the case wound up before a jury.

Investigators determined that Bostian had accelerated the train’s speed shortly before coming up to the curve at Frankford Junction, where the four-track Northeast Corridor connects with a New Jersey Transit line to Atlantic City and a Conrail freight line.

The NTSB said the acceleration suggested Bostian was in control of the train rather than having become incapacitated. He also put the train into emergency braking upon realizing where he was.

The report also found the engineer of a nearby Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority train had made an emergency stop after his train was struck by a projectile.

Bostian, the NTSB report said, was accelerating because he thought he was beyond the 50-mph curve and in a place where the top authorized speed was 110 mph.

At the time of the derailment, the area where the derailment occurred did not have a positive train control system in operation. The NTSB said that might have prevented the derailment by slowing the train before it reached the curve.

The judge in Bostian’s trial did not allow the jury to hear that piece of information.

In the end that didn’t matter. The jury may have believed Bostian had erred but had not engaged in criminal behavior.

Shapiro said in a statement after the trial there was no doubt that the derailment resulted from excessive speed and resulted in death and injury to Bostian’s passengers and for that he was responsible.

“Our goal throughout this long legal process was to seek justice for each and every victim, and help bring victims’ families and their loved ones closure.” Shapiro said.

In October 2016 Amtrak agreed to pay up to $265 million to the victims of the derailment and their families in one of the largest settlements related to a train derailment in the United States.

In reading Shapiro’s statement about seeking justice for the victims of the derailment, I was reminded of something a political science professor I had in a course titled Introduction to the Legal System said on the first day of class.

“Don’t talk to me about justice. Law is rights and wrongs and remedies. Justice is what they argue about upstairs in the philosophy department.”

Whether justice was or was not served by the outcome of Bostian’s criminal trial will depend on your point of view. No matter how the jury ruled, someone would have thought it was an injustice.

As for Bostian, his name now will fade from news accounts and become a footnote in Amtrak history.

But he will never be able to quite overcome the damage his good name has suffered. He will always be the guy who was in the engineer’s seat when Train 188 derailed.

Nor will he be able to forget how a few seconds in what was otherwise just another day at work changed the course of his life in ways he’ll never be able to quite overcome.

Everyone can agree on one thing. They wish it had never happened. Yet that is one wish that will never be granted.

Ex-Amtrak Engineer Acquitted on All Counts

March 7, 2022

A Philadelphia jury last week acquitted former Amtrak locomotive engineer Brandon Bostian on all criminal charges in connection with a 2015 derailment on the Northeast Corridor that left eight dead and scores injured.

News reports indicated the jury returned the verdicts of “not guilty” after 90 minutes of deliberation.

The derailment occurred on May 12, 2015, after Train 188 entered a 50 mile-per-hour curve traveling at 106 mph.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that Bostian had lost “situational awareness” just before the derailment. The board said that may have occurred because he had been listening to radio reports of rocks being thrown at other trains in the vicinity of the derailment site in North Philadelphia.

Bostian, 38, had faced criminal charges before in connection with the derailment but in those instances prosecutors had declined to continue with the case.

In the latest court action, Bostian had faced eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and hundreds of counts of reckless endangerment. 

Ex-Amtrak Engineer’s Trial Delayed

February 24, 2022

The criminal trial of a former Amtrak locomotive engineer has been delayed.

News reports indicated that the trial of Brandon Bostian, 38, which had been set to begin on Tuesday, was delayed until no sooner than Thursday due to court scheduling issues.

Bostian faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and causing a catastrophe stemming from a 2015 derailment of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia that left eight dead.

Investigators determined that the train was speeding as it entered a curve and that Bostian had lost “situational awareness” due to being distracted by listening to reports on the radio of rocks being thrown at trains in the vicinity where the derailment occurred.

Trial of ex-Amtrak Engineer Set to Begin

February 23, 2022

A jury trial of a former Amtrak locomotive engineer charged in connection with a 2015 derailment in Philadelphia that left eight dead is set to begin this week.

Brandon Bostian, 38, faces eight counts of involuntary manslaughter and hundreds of counts of reckless endangerment.

He was at the controls of Amtrak Train 188 when it derailed on May 17, 2015.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the derailment concluded that Bostian lost “situational awareness” and allowed his train to enter a 50-mile-per-hour curve at 106 mph.

The NTSB report said Bostian may have been preoccupied by radio reports of rocks being thrown at trains in the area where the derailment occurred.

The derailment also left more than 200 passengers and crew members injured.

The trial is expected to take up to two weeks and one of the key questions for jurors to answer is whether what Bostian did was a mistake or criminal behavior.

Tonti: Site of Amtrak’s First Fatal Derailment

February 5, 2022

Looking north on the CN Champaign Subdivision at Tonti, Illinois. The June 10, 1971 derailment began just beyond that switch.
A battered sign identifies Tonti, Illinois. Shown is the crossing of CN and County Road 20

Tonti, Illinois, is a mere wide spot in the road with a few houses, a business catering to agriculture, and a grade crossing on the Champaign Subdivision of Canadian National.

On June 10, 1971, Tonti briefly occupied the national spotlight as the location of Amtrak’s first fatal train derailment, which left 11 dead and 163 injured.

That was the most fatalities in a derailment involving an Amtrak train until the Jan. 4, 1987, derailment of the northbound Colonial at Chase, Maryland, which collided with three Conrail locomotives that had failed to stop for a red signal. The Chase collision left 16 dead.

I was reminded of the Tonti derailment this week when the first quarter 2022 issue of Passenger Train Journal arrived in my mailbox.

It contains a story written by Robert P. Schmidt about what caused Amtrak’s first fatal derailment with the author describing it as the culmination of a series of events that if any one of them had occurred in isolation would not have led to a serious accident.

Accompanying the story are photographs, some of which I’ve never seen before.

Reading that story reminded me that I visited Tonti in early August 2012 while railfanning the former Illinois Central mainline from Effingham to Centralia.

That prompted me to dig into a digital folder to find photographs I had almost forgotten that I had made.

The story of the Tonti derailment has been told many times although as usually happens with such events they tend to get forgotten or relegated to footnote status.

The train was the southbound City of New Orleans, which at the time was operating as Illinois Central Train 1. The operating crew was employed by the IC, which also owned the four locomotives and the train’s 15 passenger cars.

It was a transition era. The passenger equipment carried no Amtrak markings or heralds. The IC herald on the nose of the lead locomotive have been painted over.

That was typical in Amtrak’s early weeks when the newly-formed company had a skeletal staff and its host railroads operated, staffed and maintained equipment and trains that these companies had, by and large,operated before Amtrak began on May 1, 1971.

Train 1 had departed Chicago Central Station at 8 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 1:30 a.m. the next day. It had left its scheduled stop in Effingham at 11:53 a.m., nearly a half hour late.

The IC operator at Edgewood reported No. 1 past at 12:05 p.m. Unknown to the crew or any of the railroad employees who inspected the train as it passed them, the axles of two wheels in the trailing tuck of lead engine E8A No. 4031 had locked and slid along the rails for 27 miles after No. 1 departed Effingham. One of those wheels developed a 10-inch flat spot and a false flange.

Twenty-miles south of Edgewood, No. 1 came to a crossover at Tonti. Just beyond the crossover switch was a turnout for a business track to a grain elevator that diverged from the southbound mainline track.

This section of the IC had an automatic train stop system and passenger trains were authorized speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour. No. 1 averaged 97 mph between Effingham and Tonti.

Engineer Lacy Haney would say later he felt a bump as the 4031 passed over the south crossover switch and then noticed his locomotive start to derail. The locomotive turned over on its right side and slid on the ground nearly 400 feet.

Haney and his fireman survived the crash and crawled out the side of the engine facing upward.

Six passenger cars and the baggage car also turned over on their sides. The remaining eight cars remained upright but most had jackknifed.

Six of those killed were ejected through broken windows and trapped beneath the side of their coach.

Many of the injured were taken to a hospital in nearby Salem. Most of the first responders came from there and the IC presented the town with a plaque recognizing the townspeople for their help. Some even took passengers from the train into their homes until they could continue their journey or return home.

The plaque, which is now in the Salem Area Historical Museum, has attached to it a silver plated bent spike from the derailment site.

One passenger who was killed in the derailment was never identified and is buried in the Salem cemetery. A headstone was donated by a local funeral home director.

Accidents are part of any transportation company’s history. Amtrak’s deadliest crash occurred Sept. 22, 1993, when the Sunset Limited struck an out-of-alignment bridge at Big Bayou Canot in Alabama, leaving 47 dead.

The City of New Orleans would be involved in a derailment on March 15, 1999, that left 11 dead. The southbound train, by now numbered No. 59, struck a truck at a grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois.

* * * * *

Aug. 4, 2012, was a warm sunny day in south central Illinois as I set out to follow the former IC mainline. I had planned to stop in Tonti to see the location of a derailment I had read about many times.

Much has changed since 1971, including Amtrak operations. Five months after the derailment of IC No. 1, Amtrak renumbered all of its trains.

The Chicago-New Orleans trains were numbered 58 and 59, placed on an overnight schedules and renamed the Panama Limited. The CONO name was revived on Feb. 1, 1981.

Amtrak didn’t want much of IC’s passenger locomotives and cars and by middle to late summer 1971, they were being replaced with equipment with different railroad heritages. It wasn’t long before that equipment had taken on an Amtrak identity.

Starting in May 1989, IC began single tracking its mainline between Chicago and Memphis in favor of passing sidings and centralized traffic control.

In Tonti, that meant removing the southbound mainline track and the crossover that had figured in the 1971 derailment.

Although the business track in Tonti was retained, by the time I got there in 2012 the grain elevator had been razed and the business track made into a stub-end track that ends before County Road 20 (a.k.a Tonti Road).

A farm-oriented business still exists on the site and perhaps it gets occasional bulk shipments such as fertilizer.

Also gone is the grade crossing of County Road 900. Aerial photographs of the derailment show overturned cars on their sides blocking that road.

My stay in Tonti was brief.  I snapped a few photographs and continued southward. It was quiet and no CN or Amtrak trains were nearby. In fact, I would not see a CN train the rest of the day.

Nor did I find a historical marker or monument commemorating the 1971 derailment.

I did discover while conducting research for this article that in 2003 a band known as the Chicago Kingsnakes released a song titled Tonti Train Wreck.

You can also find some YouTube programs containing photos made of the derailment.

As for what the site looks like today, the top two photographs are looking north toward the derailment site.

In the distance is the bridge carrying Interstate 57 over the tracks. At least two drivers on that highway that day saw the derailment unfolding below them.

One of them got off at the next exit and found a gas station from which to call for help.

I presume the switch to the business siding is still where it was in 1971. The crossover switches would have been just beyond that.

The derailed train came to rest in the area between the I-57 bridge and the area you can see closest to the camera.

Photographs from 1971 show the property on both sides of the tracks to have been an open area then. Trees have since grown up along both sides of the tracks.

I wouldn’t say the Tonti derailment has been forgotten. But like any historical event, it takes on lesser importance as the population comes to be dominated by those who did not live through it.

In a sidebar article in the aforementioned issue of Passenger Train Journal, Preston Cook wrote that the legacy of the Tonti derailment was the development of training programs for first responders as to how to best respond to a passenger train derailment.

That has included planned coordination of responses to railroad accidents and training of first responders to educate them on the unique qualities of rail transportation.

The National Transportation Safety Board had recommended such improvements in its report on the Tonti derailment.

* * * * *

I’m thinking of going back to Tonti this year, perhaps in late spring or early summer to photograph Amtrak’s southbound Saluki passing through at about the same time as IC No. 1 did 50 years ago.

Amtrak No. 391 operates on a schedule similar to what IC’s City of New Orleans followed for many years.

It’s doubtful that many Amtrak passengers riding through Tonti today know about what happened there 50 years ago.

I wonder how many of the Amtrak operating personnel know about it or ever think about that wreck as they rush through.

Some disasters are the subject of books and inspire movies. Others may be remembered by the occasional magazine or newspaper article, particularly on an anniversary of the disaster.

Eventually, they all wind up occupying only a distant part of our collective consciousness.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders