An Amtrak train carrying Republican party members and their spouses crashed into a garbage truck on January 31, 2018, killing one person and injuring a second. Both injuries appeared to involve people in the garbage truck. The charter train crash occurred in an area where the crossing arms allegedly were known to malfunction, but the true cause of the fatal train accident is still being investigated. The accident is the second fatal Amtrak train crash in two months, and once again raises questions about railroad safety.
Amtrak Train that Hit Garbage Truck was Taking Republicans to West Virginia
The train involved in the crash was taking nearly 100 GOP lawmakers to West Virginia for a Republican retreat when it crashed in Crozet, Virginia at around 11:15 a.m., close to two hours after it left Washington. Capitol Police got off the train first, then returned to ask for any doctors to help them. Passengers on the chartered train who had medical training got off the train to treat the victims.
There were reportedly three people in the truck. One, believed to be a passenger on the garbage truck, died and one suffered serious injuries. The third was treated at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville for minor injuries. A statement from Amtrak indicated that two crew members and three passengers were also taken to a local hospital with minor injuries. Most of the injuries to train passengers involved whiplash and concussions.
Authorities identified the deceased victim as 28-year-old Christopher Foley, from Louisa County, Virginia. The garbage truck was owned by Time Disposal.
“I looked out the side of the window and then I could see a truck, just in pieces out the side of the window,” Rep. James Comer, R-Ky, told the Associated Press. “It was a garbage truck that was apparently, I would assume, trying to cross the tracks.”
The train partially derailed in the collision. Following the GOP Amtrak train crash, lawmakers traveled to their final destination by bus.
“I’m in a bit of shock right now,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who was walking to the train’s restroom during the accident and suffered injuries to his neck, back, and foot. “I’m in a whole lot of pain and discomfort.” He later added, “When this thing hit, I got thrown. It’s kind of chaotic right now.”
Lawmakers Recount GOP Amtrak Train Crash
Speaking with a reporter in a phone interview, Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, said the train was traveling at full speed when it hit the garbage truck. Meanwhile, Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, told the Los Angeles Times that the frame of the truck tore off in the crash, sending debris everywhere.
“It was pretty awful,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, from Indiana. “We did what we could for the gentleman who was still living. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do anything for the other gentleman.”
The train hit the truck at a railroad crossing that has a guard bar and signal lights to prevent vehicles from crossing in front of a train.
“We are grateful for the first responders who rushed to the scene and we pray for the victims and their families,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “May they all be in our thoughts now.” At the retreat, Ryan took a moment to thank the doctors on the train who jumped in to help the victims.
Crozet, Virginia Residents Say Railroad Crossing Arms Sometimes Malfunctioned
Speaking with the Associated Press, people who live near the accident site said the crossing arms sometimes malfunctioned, even coming down with no train approaching. In some cases, the arms reportedly stayed down for hours, leading motorists to help each other get around the arms and across the tracks.
Amtrak Involved in Fatal Crash in December
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the collision, which is the second fatal train crash involving Amtrak in two months. On December 18, an Amtrak train on its inaugural run with paying customers derailed in Washington state, killing three people and injuring around 100 others, including motorists on the interstate below.
Amtrak Train 501 was on a new route that had recently been upgraded to allow passenger trains along a section of rail previously used by freight trains. Initial reports from the NTSB indicate the train was traveling at around 80 miles per hour when it derailed, even though the speed limit for that particular curve is 30 miles per hour. That crash raised questions about train safety and the lack of Positive Train Control, which would have slowed down the speeding train.
Writing about the crash, The New York Times Editorial Board noted that the derailment was “yet another demonstration of this country’s collective, continuing failure to invest in infrastructure.”