At least 20 injured in California train crash

Associated Press
Emergency personnel respond to the scene of a train derailment in Hanford, Calif., Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Two cars and the locomotive of the train car derailed after colliding with a big rig truck in California's Central Valley, authorities said. At least 20 passengers suffered minor to moderate injuries, authorities said. The crash occurred when the driver of the big rig carrying cotton trash failed to yield and hit the train, authorities said. The impact pushed the two passenger cars and the locomotive off the tracks south of Hanford, a farming town. (AP Photo/Gosia Woznicacka)
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HANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Repair crews worked into Tuesday removing two derailed cars and a locomotive and to repair damaged railroad tracks after an Amtrak train carrying about 169 passengers derailed in a collision with a big rig truck in California's Central Valley.

At least 20 passengers suffered minor to moderate injuries, authorities said.

The Monday afternoon crash occurred when the driver of the tractor-trailer carrying cotton trash failed to yield and hit the train, authorities said. The impact pushed the two passenger cars and the locomotive off the tracks south of Hanford, a farming town.

Passenger Edmund Sanders, who said he was riding the train because he had missed a Greyhound bus from Fresno to his home in Los Angeles, was in one of the middle cars when it collided with the truck.

"Right after it happened I see all these people with a terrified look on their faces, all trying to get to the front of the train," Sanders told the Fresno Bee.

"I tried as best I could to try and calm people down and help them get off that train. I really think that God has his hands on that train today," he said.

The train traveled about 600 feet after the collision before hitting a switchback and derailing, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Harris.

Officials have not determined how fast the train or the truck were going, but the average speed for Amtrak through the area is 70 to 80 mph, while the speed limit on the roadway where the truck was traveling is 55 mph, Harris said.

After the crash, metal pieces from the truck could be seen inside the train, which was covered by cotton seeds. Several pieces of luggage were also scattered around the area.

Kings County Assistant Sheriff Dave Putnam described the injuries to passengers as bumps, bruises, scrapes and possibly broken bones.

The crash occurred at a crossing that was equipped with gates to stop traffic, Putnam said.

Eight of the injured passengers were taken to Adventist Medical Center in Hanford and five more were expected, said hospital spokeswoman Christine Pickering. She did not provide details on the extent of their injuries.

"We did call in additional physicians and staff," Pickering said.

Four additional injured passengers were taken to nearby Adventist Medical Center in Selma, while seven people were taken to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, officials said.

The train was on its way from Oakland to Bakersfield, according to Amtrak. It had four rail cars and a locomotive.

The truck driver suffered minor injuries, according to California Highway Patrol spokesman Jerry Pierce. Investigators will try to determine if the crash was caused by driver error, a malfunctioning crossing arm, or something else, the CHP said.

"This is a big, huge chaotic scene with lots of agencies involved," Pierce said.

Pierce said the other passengers were taken to an auditorium in Hanford, where they boarded another train and continued to their destinations or they were picked up by family members.

All train service through the area was halted after the crash.

Initially, Amtrak had expected to resume service through the area in time for the morning rush hour, but Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said late Monday that a bus bridge would carry passengers between Bakersfield and Hanford until at least 7:15 a.m.

"We will wait for further word from BNSF to see if we need to make further adjustments," Cole said.

BNSF Railway Co., which operates the tracks, expected to have the tracks open by 7 a.m., spokeswoman Lena Kent said.

Meanwhile, a second accident, this one around 4 p.m. Monday about 10 miles away involving a freight train and a tractor-trailer, left a truck driver with major injuries, the CHP said.

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