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3 killed and dozens injured when Amtrak train from L.A. derails in Missouri

Passengers assist others climbing from a rail car on its side.
An Amtrak passenger train lies on its side after derailing near Mendon, Mo.
(Dax McDonald / Associated Press)

Three people were killed and dozens more injured when an Amtrak train headed from Los Angeles to Chicago plowed into a dump truck Monday in Missouri, officials said.

A federal official said the eight-car train was going about 90 mph when it struck the truck at a public crossing southwest of the rural town of Mendon at 12:42 p.m. There were 207 passengers and crew members on board. Seven cars derailed.

The crossing had no electronic signals to warn traffic, which is common for the area, Cpl. Justin Dunn of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

“It was terrifying,” said Dax McDonald, who boarded the Southwest Chief train in Flagstaff, Ariz. Near Mendon, he was looking out the right side of the train and saw a large dump truck moving through a cloud of dust.

He recalled the train barreling past fields at a fast clip.

“Then a large bang happened and the train lurched forward,” McDonald said. “Next it began tilting toward the right side before violently slamming to the ground.”

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Two of those killed were on the train and the third was in the truck, Dunn said. At least 50 people were injured, according to Eric McKenzie, director of the Chariton County Ambulance District, which operates near Mendon.

Photos shared on social media showed a chaotic scene with passengers climbing out of windows and multiple overturned train cars amid blue skies and verdant fields.

McDonald posted to Twitter a video of inside the toppled train with disheveled passengers sifting through their overturned luggage.

His sisters were thrown from their seats. A woman in front of him was flung forward and had a seizure. “People were calling out, ‘Is everyone OK?’ And people were saying, ‘No, I’m hurt.’ ”

He climbed over seats and was able to squeeze his body through a window to get out, but others couldn’t.

The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to arrive at the scene Tuesday. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said it was too early to comment on the specifics of the investigation beyond the fact that the agency was seeking the speed data on the route as well as data recorder information and camera footage from Amtrak.

The train, with 85 onboard, was traveling from Stockton to Martinez when it struck a car on the tracks, killing three people inside.

Dozens of crash victims were taken to local hospitals, and some were airlifted in critical condition, officials said.

At least three people were transported to University Hospital in Columbia, said Eric Maze, a spokesperson with the University of Missouri Health Care system. University of Missouri Health Care said it was caring for nine patients from the derailment.

Ben Cornelius, a spokesman for Boone Hospital in Columbia, said the facility treated 28 patients for mild to moderate injuries. Most were released or expected to be released Monday night.

Debris sits near railroad tracks after an Amtrak passenger train derailed near Mendon, Mo.
(Dax McDonald / Associated Press)

One passenger posted a Facebook Live video moments after climbing out and sitting atop the overturned train. He was breathing heavily and his voice cracked as he panned over to the wreck. “Damn, we hit a truck. Looks like someone was crossing the tracks,” he said.

First responders as well as volunteers helped ferry passengers to Mendon, where they could make travel arrangements.

“So thankful for the people here,” McDonald wrote on Twitter, accompanied with photos from Northwestern High School’s gymnasium. “This town pulled together to help everyone.”

Mendon Mayor Ronnie Rogers said he was at a church bringing water and food for those who needed to stay the night.

The crash took place at an uncontrolled crossing where the BNSF Railway tracks meet a gravel road. It did not have crossing arms that are designed to lower when trains approach, preventing drivers from entering the tracks, according to federal records.

Drivers approaching the rural crossing in Missouri’s Chariton County would see two black-and-white X-shaped signs, called crossbucks, that often read “railroad crossing,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s database of railroad crossings. But the crossing was not equipped with flashing lights, bells, pavement markings or gate arms.

In 2019, about 29 trains crossed through the intersection per day and about the same number overnight, according to the most recent data available from the Department of Transportation. The majority of the traffic was from freight trains. The crossing saw two passenger trains per day that year. The maximum speed for trains through the corridor is 90 mph, the filings said. The crossing is primarily controlled by the BNSF Railway.

The crossing was slated to be upgraded this year to include lights, gates and other roadway improvements, at a cost of $400,000, according to an infrastructure plan published this year by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

There have been no previous reported collisions at the intersection, according to federal records.

The Southwest Chief travels between Chicago and Los Angeles with stops in Kansas City, Albuquerque and Flagstaff, Ariz., according to Amtrak.

The crash came one day after another Amtrak train collided with a car in California’s East Bay, killing at least three people. Eighty-five people were on the train, which was traveling from Stockton to Martinez. There were no reported injuries among the train passengers and crew, officials said.

Times staff writers Hayley Smith, Nathan Solis and Richard Winton contributed to this report.


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