A Philadelphia-bound Amtrak train struck a tractor-trailer and derailed in North Carolina Monday, toppling the engine on its side and causing dozens of injuries
The northbound train derailed near U.S. Highway 301 and North Carolina Highway 903 in Halifax County, North Carolina, -- 15 miles north of Rocky Mount, N.C. around noon Monday, Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp told The Daily Herald of Roanoke Rapids.
The oversized flatbed trailer involved in Monday's crash was transporting a modular building wrapped in blue plastic and jammed with electrical equipment, said Lt. Jeff Gordon, a spokesman for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
One of the troopers escorting the truck from Clayton, North Carolina to the Virginia border was trying to help the driver negotiate a difficult left-hand turn from the tracks onto the road in the town of Halifax, Gordon said. But the 164-foot tractor-trailer combination, longer than half a football field, couldn't navigate it, he said.
The trooper, who had about 10 years of experience, and the driver were attempting to get the truck turned for about five minutes, during which time there was no indication of an approaching train, Gordon said. When the train appeared, it set off warning flashers and the crossing arms came down and hit the truck as it was still straddling the tracks, he said. The train hit the truck shortly afterward, Gordon said.
He said the truck was unable to back off the tracks before the train hit because traffic had backed up on the road behind him.
The crash knocked the engine on its side. The car directly behind the engine was derailed, and a third car was partially derailed.
"There were 212 passengers and eight crew members on board," said Amtrak in a statement.
Eyewitness Leslie Cipriani, who was in a car with a friend at a stop sign, heard the sound of the oncoming train and saw the crossing arms hit the tractor-trailer.
"I saw him jump out of the truck when he knew he couldn't beat it. ... I heard the train noise and thought, 'Oh, my God, it's going to happen,'" said Cipriani, who shot video of the collision with her cellphone.
She posted video of the impact to Twitter.
State transportation officials said 54 of the injured were taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries after Monday's crash. They said one had more serious injuries. Details were not immediately available.
Among the injured was the train's conductor, Gordon said. Federal authorities said they believed 62 people were injured. The discrepancy could not be resolved immediately.
Lance Martin, editor of news website RRSpin was one of the first to report on the injuries. Those injuries do not appear to be serious, according to local police, Tripp and passenger Charlotte Story.
"There was a massive jerk and we were kind of thrown forward a bit, and the train came to a sudden stop,” Story, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student told WRAL-TV. “I couldn’t tell if it was trying to slow down or not. There was no whistle. It came completely out of the blue.”
Sheriff's Major Scott Hall said from the crash scene that some passengers were taken to a hospital by ambulance, but others were able to climb aboard a shuttle bus to be taken for examination.
At dusk, several undamaged cars from the train sat on the rails waiting for another engine to arrive and pull them away from the site of the crash, which happened just steps from homes and a Baptist church. Bright lights lit up the scene after nightfall as crews worked to remove the derailed cars and the truck. Halifax County Sheriff Wes Tripp said the goal was to reopen the intersection by midnight.
Gordon identified the owner of the tractor-trailer as Guy M. Turner Inc. of Greensboro. A statement on the company's website, later removed, said the company's thoughts and prayers were with anyone who was injured.
Steve Ditmeyer, a former Federal Railroad Administration official who teaches railway management at Michigan State University, looked at the crossing on Google Maps and said the curve of the railroad heading toward the intersection would have made it hard for the engineer to see up ahead, or for the truck driver to see down the track. Furthermore, the tracks don't cross the road at a 90-degree angle.
"This is also known as a bad geometry crossing," he said.
The Amtrak train was the Carolinian, which runs between Charlotte, North Carolina, and New York City each day. It was headed north at the time of the crash.
The train, which originated in Charlotte at 7 a.m. was due to arrive in Wilmington, Delaware, at 6:43 p.m.; Philly at 7:07 p.m.; and Trenton, New Jersey, at 7:43 p.m. before eventually arriving in New York City.
Buses were taking about 170 passengers to Richmond, Virginia, where they could board another train, said state Transportation Department spokesman Mike Charbonneau.
Hours after the crash, passengers — luggage in tow — could be seen boarding Hailfax County activity buses. The passengers would eventually be transferred onto coach buses and taken to Richmond, Virginia where they would be able to board another Amtrak train.
Amtrak urged anyone wanting information to call (800) 523-9101.