3 dead when Amtrak train from Los Angeles to Chicago derails in Missouri

Three people were killed and dozens more injured when an Amtrak train heading from Los Angeles to Chicago slammed into a dump truck in Missouri on Monday, officials said.

A federal official said the eight-car train was traveling at about 90 mph when it hit the truck at a public level crossing southwest of the rural town of Mendon at 12:42 p.m. There were 207 passengers and crew on board. Seven cars derailed.

The crossing had no electronic signals to warn traffic, which is common in the area, Cape Town. Justin Dunn of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

“It was terrifying,” said Dax McDonald, who boarded the Southwest Chief train in Flagstaff, Arizona. Near Mendon, he was looking to the right side of the train and saw a large dump truck moving through a cloud of dust.

He remembered the train going past the fields at a rapid pace.

“Then there was a big bang and the train swerved,” McDonald said. “Then it began to tilt to the right before hitting the ground hard.”

Two of those killed were on the train and the other was in the truck, Dunn said. At least 50 people were injured, according to Chariton County Ambulance District Manager Eric McKenzie, which operates near Mendon.

Pictures shared on social networks showed a chaotic scene with passengers climbing out of windows and several overturned train carriages amidst blue skies and green fields.

McDonald posted video on Twitter of the interior of the overturned train with disheveled passengers sifting through their overturned luggage.

Her sisters were thrown from their seats. A woman in front of him was thrown forward and had a seizure. “People were shouting, ‘Is everyone okay?’ And people were like, ‘No, I’m hurt.’ ”

He climbed onto the seats and was able to squeeze his body through a window to get out, but the others couldn’t.

The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to arrive on the scene Tuesday and search for the train recorder and video footage of the accident. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said it was too early to comment on details of the investigation beyond the board seeking route speed data as well as data recorder information and Amtrak camera footage.

Dozens of patients from the crash were taken to local hospitals, and some were airlifted in critical condition, officials said.

At least three people were transported to Columbia University Hospital, said Eric Maze, spokesman for the University of Missouri Health System. University of Missouri Health Care said it was caring for nine patients from the derailment.

Ben Cornelius, spokesman for Boone Hospital in Columbia, said the facility treated 28 patients for minor to moderate injuries. Most have been released or are expected to be by Monday evening.

Debris lies near train tracks after an Amtrak passenger train derailed near Mendon, Missouri.

(Dax McDonald/Associated Press)

A passenger posted a Facebook Live video moments after getting out and sitting on top of the overturned train. He was breathing heavily and his voice cracked as he walked towards the wreckage. “Shit, we hit a truck. Looks like someone was crossing the tracks,” he said.

First responders and volunteers helped passengers get to Mendon, where they could organize their trip.

“So grateful for the people here,” McDonald wrote on Twitter, along with photos from the gymnasium at Northwestern High School. “This city has stepped up to help everyone.”

Mendon Mayor Ronnie Rogers said he was at a church bringing water and food to those who had to stay overnight.

The crash happened at an uncontrolled level crossing where the BNSF train tracks meet a gravel road. It had no crossing arms designed to lower as trains approach, preventing drivers from entering the tracks, according to federal records.

Drivers approaching the rural railroad crossing in Chariton County, Missouri, would see two black-and-white X-shaped signs, called crossbucks, which often read “Railway Crossing,” according to the database of U.S. Department of Transportation level crossings. But the crossing was not equipped with flashing lights, bells, floor markings or barriers that prevent motorists from crossing the tracks.

In 2019, according to the latest data available, about 29 trains passed through the intersection per day and about the same number at night, according to the Department of Transport. The majority of traffic came from freight trains. The crossing saw two passenger trains per day that year. The maximum speed of trains in the corridor is 90 mph, according to the documents. The crossing is primarily controlled by the BNSF Railway.

The crossing was to be upgraded this year to include lights, gates and other roadway improvements, at a cost of $400,000, according to an infrastructure plan released this year by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

According to federal records, no collisions have been previously reported at the intersection.

The Southwest Chef travels between Chicago and Los Angeles with stops in Kansas City, Albuquerque and Flagstaff, according to Amtrak.

The crash came a day after another Amtrak train collided with a car in California’s East Bay, killing at least three people. Eighty-five people were on the train, which was traveling from Stockton to Martinez. No injuries were reported among passengers and crew on the train, officials said.

Times staff writers Hayley Smith, Nathan Solis and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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