Investigators probing the derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief early Monday say that the cause might be the rail being out of alignment after it was struck by a truck.
During a news conference, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said the truck moved the rail 12 to 14 inches. The incident occurred a day before the derailment, which resulted in 32 people being treated at two Kansas hospitals for injuries sustained during the accident.
None of the injuries was life-threatening.
The Los Angeles to Chicago bound train was traveling at 60 miles per hour just before the derailment, which occurred between Dodge City and Garden City, Kansas.
The train was carrying 131 passengers and 14 crew members.
NTSB investigators said the train’s engineer spotted a bend in the tracks and applied the emergency brakes, but was unable to avert the derailment, which occurred 18 seconds later.
The truck that hit the track was carrying cattle feed and belonged to Cimarron Crossing Feeders LLC.
The NTSB posted on its Twitter feed photographs of the truck and said that the company that owned it has been cooperative in the investigation.
BNSF owns the track and has repaired them. Amtrak said that Nos. 3 and 4 have resumed using the route.
A passenger aboard the train said she was lying across two seats trying to sleep when the derailment occurred.
“I heard and felt this horrible thundering and rumbling sound,” said Laurel Saiz of Syracuse, New York. “It lasted about five or six seconds and the train started turning over.”
Saiz, a journalism professor at Onondaga Community College in upstate New York, suffered a broken collar bone.
“In my mind, I told myself, this is a train derailment,” she said.
Saiz was on the right side of the Superliner coach, which then flipped over onto its left side.
She said she was thrown from her seat to the opposite side of the train and doesn’t remember what happened next.
“I just remember landing flat,” Saiz said. “I must of hit the other seats on the way down. I think that’s when I broke my collarbone.”
After the car came to a halt, Saiz said she heard an older man beg for help. “He said he couldn’t breathe and that he felt like he was dying,” she said. “That was horrible because I couldn’t do much to help.”
Rescue workers arrived on the scene within minutes and passengers who were not injured were able to help the older man.
Saiz said passengers had to climb a ladder to get out of their car and then reach the ground on another ladder.
A professional musician who was traveling back to his New York City home after playing a gig in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said he feels fortunate to still be alive after being seriously injured.
The musician, a percussionist and video artist who was born as Stefan Joel Weisser but goes by the name Z’EV, said time seemed to stand still once the train left the tracks.
“The train’s going along and then all of a sudden I could tell that they’re like hitting the brakes,” he said. “And then there’s this kind of, like, crack and then the train flips.”
Z’EV said flew in the air seven feet before landing on a seat’s arm rest.
“I knew I was hurt,” he said. “And then I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up the next morning in the hospital.”
Z’EV suffered five broken ribs on his left side and expects to remain hospitalized through the end of the week.
He expected it will take up to a year for his bones to heal. He hospitalized in Amarillo, Texas.
“Considering I use my arms in performing, you know it’s not clear whether–how much I’m going to be able to work,” Z’EV said.
“I can think of better ways to spend the next six months,” he said as he laughed. “The momentous things in your life, eventually you come to realize what it was about.”
Z’EV said he lacks health insurance so his Friends and fans have created a Go Fund Me page to help him pay for medical bills. So far, they’ve raised more than $22,000 of their $30,000 goal.
The page is at https://www.gofundme.com/kqu6bed4