Kansas - 31 Hurt in Amtrak derailment - cause unknown

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31 hurt in Amtrak derailment in Kansas
Cause of accident unknown

An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the accident

March 15, 2000
Web posted at: 10:16 AM EST (1516 GMT)


In this story:

'Kind of eerie when the bottom is up'
'Nobody panicked'
Related stories, sites

From staff and wire reports.

CARBONDALE, Kansas (CNN) -- At least 31 people were injured, one critically, when a westbound Amtrak train carrying more than 160 people derailed early Wednesday in northeast Kansas, authorities said.

Amtrak's "Southwest Chief" left the tracks about 2:10 a.m. near Carbondale, a rural area about 20 miles south of Topeka.

The train consisted of 26 cars, 16 of which derailed. Most of the derailed cars carried mail and freight, but two sleeper cars and other passenger cars fell onto their sides.

The injured were taken to hospitals in Topeka. One person was reported in critical condition. Amtrak said most of the other injuries consisted of cuts, scrapes, bumps and bruises.

'Kind of eerie when the bottom is up'

"We heard a loud noise, we started rocking and went over," said Richard Gray, 51, of Aurora, New York, who was in a sleeper car that overturned. "It was kind of eerie when the bottom is up."

The cause of the derailment was not immediately known. Personnel from the National Transportation Safety Board were at the scene.

John Mills, a retired Amtrak district supervisor who was acting as a spokesman for the railroad, said the cars derailed as the train was rounding a "gentle curve" in an area of flat terrain.

He said the train was going about 60 mph, well within the speed limit for that area.

The conductor and engineer said the train was handling perfectly and nothing appeared to be wrong.

'Nobody panicked'

A young woman who said she lives near the tracks said she heard what sounded like the train's brakes followed by a "tumbling, crashing sound" and then nothing.

Gray said rescuers reached him and his 92-year-old mother, Dorothy Gray, about 20 minutes after the crash.

"My first thought was: `It happened, we derailed,'" said Gray, a librarian at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. "But nobody panicked. You keep your head together and try to get out."

Robert Daveler, 19, of Madison, Wisconsin, was two cars ahead of the cars that derailed. He said he woke up about two minutes before the accident.

"There were three big, jerking motions," Daveler said. "It seemed like they hit the brakes real hard and stopped a few seconds later."

Amtrak said passengers would be taken to their destinations by alternate transportation.

Local authorities said 155 passengers and a crew of 12 were on the train.

The train left Chicago on Tuesday afternoon and was headed toward Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a final destination of Los Angeles.

-- Jim McAteer (jim_mcateer@hotmail.com), March 15, 2000

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