An Amtrak train carrying more than 200 passengers crashed into a dump truck in rural Missouri on Monday, killing three people and injuring dozens, authorities said. It was the second fatal accident involving the railroad service in two days.
Two of the people killed were on the train, and the other was in the truck, authorities said. The exact number of passengers injured and the extent of their injuries were not immediately clear.
The train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago when it hit the truck, which was obstructing a public crossing at 12:42 p.m. Central time near Mendon, Missouri, about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City, Missouri, Amtrak said.
Eight cars and two locomotives derailed, Amtrak said, and most of the cars ended up on their sides.
Lt. Eric F. Brown of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said at a news conference Monday that the crash had occurred at a crossing on a gravel road “with no lights.”
Samantha McDonald, 21, of Phoenix, said in a phone interview that she was on her way to Ford Madison, Iowa, riding in one of the last two cars of the train, when she heard a screeching noise, followed by a bang. It was her first time on a train, she said, but she still knew that sound was not normal.
Dust flew up inside the car. Then, it tilted on its side, McDonald said. She was flung to her right, causing her to strike her head against the overhead compartment.
“I was knocked out,” she said late Monday afternoon from a hospital, where she was waiting to get a CT scan.
“Everyone in the train car that we were in got flung everywhere,” McDonald added.
Her brother Dax McDonald, 26, said he was sitting in the right aisle of the car when he felt the train hit the dump truck. Looking out of his window, he saw the cars in front of him tilt toward his side, and he recalled thinking: “We’re going to flip over, too.”
The car fell, and he stood on what had been his side-facing window, now pressed against gravel.
To escape the car, passengers scaled the seats and overhead compartments, he said.
“For people who were older, they basically had to wait for the emergency crews to show up,” Dax McDonald said.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said it had responded along with other agencies. Amtrak said it also had deployed its own emergency personnel to the scene to help passengers, employees and their families. It said further details would be provided “as available.”
Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri told reporters that it was a “terrible situation.”
Photos posted by Dax McDonald on Twitter showed passengers standing atop overturned Amtrak cars, helping each other out, as others walked along the railroad tracks. Another photo showed four large rubber tires on an axle lying near the tracks.
Later, he posted a photo showing that passengers had gathered in a high school gymnasium near the scene of the crash.
“So thankful for the people here, safely at the Northwestern high school near Mendon,” he wrote. “This town pulled together to help everyone.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement Monday that it would investigate the derailment.
The crash came one day after another Amtrak passenger train crashed into a four-door sedan at a crossing without a train signal or guardrails in a rural area of the East Bay in Northern California on Sunday, killing three people and critically injuring two others including a child, a spokesperson for the local Fire Department and emergency services said.
The victims in that crash were pronounced dead at the scene, according to Steve Aubert, a fire marshal with the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District. That five-car train was carrying nearly 90 people, a spokesperson for Amtrak said in an email.
The track speed where the train crashed in Missouri is up to 79 mph, said Russell Quimby, a retired accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. It’s likely the train was nearing that top speed, he said, because the track was relatively straight and flat. The speed would have made it harder for the train to stop — if it even had the chance from a mile or a half-mile out, he said.
“Did that truck just, you know, pull out in front of it, or was it stuck on the tracks?” he said. “You don’t know.”
Amtrak trains typically have a camera on the windshield of the lead locomotive, and it will likely be reviewed by investigators, Quimby said.
There is one crossing for about every 1 mile of railroad track in the country, and Amtrak has been trying to reduce that number in recent years, he said.
Adding gates or lights at those crossings, however, can cost up to a half-million dollars to install, Quimby said.
A train often does not derail when it hits a car or a truck, he added. But if it is moving at a high speed or if metal gets underneath the traction motors — two factors that Quimby said he believes occurred in Missouri — then it is more likely to tilt and crash.
“Trains can’t stop,” he said. “People and vehicles have to.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.