HALIFAX, N.C. (AP) — An Amtrak train collided with a tractor-trailer that was stuck on the tracks while trying to make a difficult left-hand turn Monday. At least one of the train’s cars toppled and 55 or more people were injured.
The collision was the third serious commuter train crash in less than two months. Two deadly crashes in New York and California in February killed a total of seven people and injured 30.
The tractor-trailer in Monday’s collision had backed up several times as the truck’s driver tried to make the turn, said Leslie Cipriani, who shot a video of the crash with her cellphone while sitting in her car at a stop sign. While the driver was still attempting the maneuver, Cipriani 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,'” she said.
The truck driver was not injured, said North Carolina State Highway Patrol Jeff Gordon.
The tractor-trailer, owned by Guy M. Turner Inc. in Greensboro, had a permit to carry an overweight load of 80,000 pounds, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Abbott. It wasn’t immediately clear what the tractor-trailer was carrying; the company did not respond to an email asking for comment.
Of the injured passengers, 54 were taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries, state transportation officials said. They said one had more serious injuries. Details were not immediately available.
Federal Railroad Administration officials said they believed that 62 people had been injured. The discrepancy could not be resolved immediately.
Some of the less seriously injured were released from hospitals quickly enough to get on buses that were taking 173 uninjured passengers to Richmond, Virginia, to get on another train, state DOT officials said.
A law enforcement officer was blocking the intersection before Monday’s collision occurred, possibly trying to help the truck driver make the turn. Asked if it seemed that the officer knew the train was coming, the eyewitness, Cipriani, replied: “That’s what it looked like.”
Federal Rail Administration spokesman Michael J. Cole said it appeared that the locomotive and two cars derailed. State transportation officials said one baggage car derailed.
Cipriani, who was headed home from the Halifax County Courthouse, said she shot the video in case authorities needed it for evidence. “I’m still shaken up about seeing it,” she said. “It’s an image that I’ll never get out of my head.”
The train had one locomotive and seven cars, Cole said. He said the authorized speed for the train is 70 mph, but authorities don’t yet know how fast the train was traveling.
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.
On Feb. 7 in New York, the driver of an SUV and five train passengers were killed in a collision in Valhalla, about 20 miles north of New York City. That crash happened after the driver of the SUV had stopped on the tracks, between the lowered crossing gates, for reasons still unclear to investigators.
On Feb. 24 in California, the engineer of a Southern commuter train was killed and 30 people were injured when the train struck a heavy pickup truck and trailer that had been abandoned on the tracks in Oxnard, about 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles.