12 Killed in Amtrak’s Worst Crash : 160 Hurt as Train Hits Three Engines Outside Baltimore

Times Staff Writer

An Amtrak passenger train en route from Washington to Boston with an estimated 500 people aboard derailed outside Baltimore on Sunday after sideswiping three Conrail engines, killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 160 others, authorities said. It was the worst accident in Amtrak history.

Many of the passengers were trapped for several hours in the wreckage before they could be freed, authorities said, and the death toll was expected to rise as more bodies were recovered from within the damaged cars. A temporary morgue was set up at the site, officials said.

The weather was clear at the time of the accident. The exact speed of the Amtrak train could not be determined, but trains in this stretch of the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor between Washington and New York frequently exceed 100 m.p.h., Amtrak officials said.


Both Trains Northbound

The accident occurred at 1:30 p.m. near Chase, Md., about 10 miles east of the Baltimore city limits and about 20 miles north of the Baltimore station. Amtrak train No. 94, the Colonial, entered the same stretch of track at the same time as the three coupled Conrail engines, Amtrak officials said. Both trains were northbound.

“The injuries apparently were very severe,” said Sgt. Earl Bredenburg, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police. Many of the injured were flown by helicopters to city hospitals, including the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit.

“The first three cars were really a mess,” Bredenburg said. “They were totally destroyed. I’m told they still haven’t been able to find the engineer.”

Baltimore County police spokesman Jay Miller later said one of the dead was the Amtrak engineer.

Third Car Not Reached

Baltimore County Fire Chief Frank Wilson said 8 1/2 hours after the accident that rescue workers had penetrated the uppermost car in the tangled mass of wreckage and were halfway through the second car but had not reached the third car at the bottom of the pile of wreckage.

All 12 passenger cars on the Amtrak train jumped the track and its two locomotives were heavily damaged, said Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak. “The side of one (Conrail) engine hit against the head end of the Amtrak engine,” Black said. “The first five cars of the Amtrak train went on their sides and the last seven, although derailed, remained upright.”


Black said the train was about half full, “although it’s an unreserved train; therefore, we don’t have a manifest.”

Although no official cause of the accident was reported, Black said: “A preliminary report indicates the freight locomotives entered the mainline track on which the Colonial was traveling, having passed a stop signal.”

Bredenburg said a fire at the scene of the wreck was quickly extinguished. “There were some reports that a house caught fire--there was definitely a fire; whether it was a house or not, we don’t know, but it’s out now,” he said.

Larry Habber, 27, of New York City, a passenger, told the Associated Press: “You were sitting there, and there were a few bangs, and then you were on the floor.”

Over Quickly

Habber, who had been sitting in the fifth passenger car from the front, said the accident lasted about 20 seconds. “It’s amazing how many things you can think of in that time,” he said.

Carol Bourne, 30, also of New York City, said she helped to pull a 4-year-old girl to safety. “She was screaming. I just grabbed her and got out of there. I couldn’t look for my bags,” she said.


Elaine Mills of Philadelphia, another passenger, who had been in Baltimore visiting her mother, told United Press International: “I heard a noise and didn’t know what it was. I fell forward and everything went black. Everyone was screaming, and all I wanted to do was get out of the train.”

The train originates in Newport News, Va., on weekdays. On Sundays, it starts in Washington, Amtrak officials said. The Colonial divides at New Haven, Conn., with one train going to Boston and the other to Springfield, Mass., officials said.

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates transportation accidents, were dispatched to the scene.

The accident blocked traffic on the busy Northeast Corridor, delaying travel for thousands, Amtrak spokesman John Jacobson said. At least 12 northbound and 12 southbound trains were canceled, and no trains were running between Washington and Philadelphia, he said.

The 12 fatalities made Sunday’s wreck Amtrak’s worst accident since its inception in May, 1971. The previous worst accident killed 11 people in Salem, Ill., on June 10, 1971. Another, on Oct. 2, 1977, killed 10 people in a truck stalled on a railroad crossing near Tampa, Fla.