(Niles, Michigan – October 21, 2012)
Amtrak’s “Wolverine” passenger train, travelling from Chicago, IL and destined for Pontiac, MI, derailed most of its cars, injuring several of the 174 passengers and four crew members on board and sending six passengers and one crew member to area hospitals just after it left Niles, MI Sunday morning shortly after 9:00 A.M.
Passenger Miriam Baker of New Lenox, IL was among the injured treated by paramedics at the scene and not requiring hospitalization for her cracked elbow, but described the experience of her first train ride in no uncertain terms. “The train started to sway and then things started flying,” she recalled, adding that “Then all Hell broke loose.”
Amtrak Spokesman Marc Magliari said that several cars derailed, but remained upright and still in line with each other, even though off the rails. Nearly all the cars and the locomotive derailed as the train, traveling at 60 mph, came off the tracks at a switch. But it could have been worse: the locomotive stopped just 20 feet short of colliding with a string of empty coal hopper cars on an adjacent track.
Baker said that the conductor had just announced that they would be passing a train headed for Chicago just after the train left Niles and just before her car, the second behind the engine, left the rails along with several other cars.
Michael Brennan of Northville, MI, president and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Michigan and his wife, Joan, who had been to Chicago for the weekend, were passengers aboard the train. “I think everyone is fortunate that it wasn’t much more serious,” said Brennan, adding that “There was an initial jolt that sent the train left, then right, which was rocking people back and forth and moving luggage around. That continued for a few seconds, but you could tell that something had gone wrong,” Brennan continued. “The train was beginning to come to a fairly sudden halt. It came to a stop and the power went off.”
Amtrak announced it would provide charter buses to take passengers to their destinations, but three hours later, the stranded passengers were still awaiting a ride.
The cause of the derailment, which occurred on rails owned by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, is still undetermined as Amtrak officials continue their investigation. Also involved will be the Federal Railroad Administration and possibly the National Transportation Safety Board.