An Amtrak passenger train derailed in southwest Kansas just after midnight on Monday, injuring over 30 people. The Kansas train accident occurred in the town of Cimarron, a small community roughly 160 miles west of Wichita.
The Amtrak train, commonly referred to as the ‘Southwest Chief,’ was in the midst of a 43-hour trip from Los Angeles, California to Chicago, Illinois. Officials said the train was equipped with two locomotives and ten cars with 131 passengers on board. Thirty-two people were taken to area hospitals with injuries in the wake of the Kansas train accident.
Most of the injured were released later Monday morning. Two people who sustained serious injuries in the Kansas train accident were airlifted to a medical center in Amarillo, Texas.
How Did the Amtrak Derailment Happen?
Reports have indicated that the Amtrak train was going the speed limit of 60 miles-per-hour when the engineer noticed a “significant” bend in the track and pulled the emergency brake. Visibility, at the time of the Kansas train accident, was listed as relatively clear, according to various news reports.
It took about 18 seconds for the train to come to a complete stop after the emergency brake was pulled. By that point, the Amtrak train had traveled 919 feet down the track with eight of the ten cars derailing.
Daniel Aiken of Lenexa, Kansas was one of the many passengers aboard the Amtrak train who was startled by the screams he heard as he climbed out of one of the overturned train cars. At one point he stopped to smell fluid leaking through the train car, believing that it might be gasoline. Thankfully, it was water. Aiken told the Chicago Tribune that fellow passengers in his train car were able to calm down once they realized the car wasn’t going to catch fire.
Passenger Kelsey Wilson, a student at Truman State University in Missouri, said she was jolted awake when the train started to shake. The train car she was in actually disconnected from the car in front of it and overturned, she recalled. Once the train came to a complete stop, Wilson escaped through the top of the overturned car and slid down the side before she “passed out.” Wilson was treated and released with a neck brace from a local hospital.
“I was waiting for the worst,” said Amtrak passenger David Tisdale, who was traveling to New York from his home in Arizona. “I was afraid I was going to die.”
Kansas Train Accident Investigation
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a team out to Cimarron to investigate the Kansas train accident. While the investigation is in its early stages, NTSB member Earl Weener told the media on Tuesday that the sharp bend in the track appears to have been caused when a delivery truck hit and shifted the railroad track near the site of the Kansas train accident. According to Weener, a truck owned by Cimarron Crossing Feeders LLC hit and shifted the track between 12 and 14 inches. Cimarron Crossing Feeders is a business that is licensed to feed up to 20,000 head of cattle.
Reports have indicated that the railroad track runs adjacent to a paved highway. Cimarron Crossing Feeders is situated north of that highway, and there is a gap in the fence line that separates the railroad track from the highway. This is where investigators found the truck tire track—an area that is not located at a designated rail crossing.
Weener said the NTSB has reviewed the forward-facing camera footage recorded by the Amtrak train and confirmed that there was “localized distortion” in the track seconds before the Kansas train accident. A full investigation of the derailment will likely take a year to complete.
Our Nation’s Aging Railroad Track
One of the looming questions, in the wake of the Kansas train accident, is why the Cimarron Crossing Feeders truck driver didn’t report the track damage to authorities. Feed trucks and other heavy commercial vehicles should be especially vigilant when going over the railroad tracks, and it goes without saying that if they do any damage to the track, it needs to be reported as soon as possible. Doing so may have prevented this tragedy.
Beyond the damage caused by the truck, the Kansas train accident brings to light an unsettling truth about the current state of our rail system: we have hundreds of miles of old railroad track that needs to be replaced. Hopefully, this derailment will sound the alarm and bring to light this issue.
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