Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were in Missouri Tuesday trying to determine how an Amtrak train carrying more than 200 people slammed into a dump truck, killing two train passengers and the truck driver.
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago Monday afternoon when it struck a dump truck and derailed at the crossing near Mendon. It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were hurt but hospitals near the western Missouri accident scene reported receiving more than 40 patients from the crash.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said the train was carrying about 207 passengers and crew, but Amtrak said in a statement there were 275 passengers and 12 crew. The disparity could not immediately be resolved.
The collision derailed seven cars, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The truck was broken into pieces.
The crossing in a rural area about 84 miles (135 kilometers) northeast of Kansas City has no lights or other signals to warn of an approaching train, and local residents have complained that the overgrowth of brush and the steep incline from the road to the tracks makes it hard to see oncoming trains from either direction.
Rob Nightingale of Taos, New Mexico, said he was dozing off in his sleeper compartment when the lights flickered and the train rocked back and forth.
“It was like slow motion. Then all of a sudden I felt it tip my way. I saw the ground coming toward my window, and all the debris and dust,” Nightingale told The Associated Press. “Then it sat on its side and it was complete silence. I sat there and didn’t hear anything. Then I heard a little girl next door crying.”
Nightingale was unhurt and he and other passengers were able to climb out of the overturned train car through a window.
It’s too early to speculate on why the truck was on the tracks, NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said. Trains won’t be able to run on the track for “a matter of days” while they gather evidence, she said.
Mike Spencer, who grows corn and soybeans on the land surrounding the intersection a couple of miles southwest of Mendon, said everyone in the small community understands the intersection is dangerous, especially for those driving heavy, slow farm equipment.
Spencer said he had contacted state transportation officials, Chariton County commissioners and BNSF Railway, which owns the track, about the potential danger. Spencer, who is on the board of a local levy district, said the dump truck driver was hauling rock for a levy on a local creek, a project that had been ongoing for a couple days.
Messages left Tuesday with Chariton County commissioners were not immediately returned.
Passenger Dian Couture was in the dining car with her husband celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary when she heard a loud noise and the train wobbled and then crashed onto its side.
“The people on our left-hand side flew across and hit us, and then we were standing on the windows on the right-hand side of the car,” Couture told WDAF-TV. “Two gentlemen in the front came up, stacked a bunch of things and popped out the window and literally pulled us out by our hands.”
Passengers included 16 youths and eight adults from two Boy Scout troops who were traveling home to Appleton, Wisconsin, as well as high school students from Pleasant Ridge High School in Easton, Kansas, who were headed to a Future Business Leaders of America conference in Chicago.
It was the second Amtrak collision in as many days. Three people in a car were killed Sunday afternoon when an Amtrak commuter train smashed into it in Northern California, authorities said.
People have been injured or killed in at least six other accidents involving Amtrak trains since 2015. Last year, three people died and others were injured when an Amtrak derailed in north-central Montana as it traveled from Chicago to Seattle.
Amtrak is a federally supported company that operates more than 300 passenger trains daily in nearly every contiguous U.S. state and parts of Canada. The Southwest Chief takes about two days to travel from Los Angeles to Chicago, picking up passengers at stops in between.
Associated Press reporters Margaret Stafford in Liberty, Missouri; Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Grant Schulte in Omaha, Nebraska; Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis; and Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, contributed to this report.