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Amtrak’s California Zephyr Derails, Injures 21

(Benkelman, Nebraska — August 26, 2011)

Amtrak’s too-often ill-fated California Zephyr passenger train suffered another of a series of accidents Friday morning at 7:51 A.M. near the community of Benkelman, NE when it derailed two locomotives and three cars, injuring 21 passengers and crew members, when it struck a crane that was being used to dismantle a trackside structure.

A total of 192 passengers and crew members were aboard the train which was operating on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks at the time of the accident. Due to the proximity of the accident to the states of Colorado and Kansas, emergency assistance came from all three states and the injured were distributed among three different trauma centers. The same train had been delayed earlier in its Oakland-to-Chicago trip when it struck a car that was hung up on Union Pacific RR tracks in West Wendover, UT.

Adding further discomfort and delay to Amtrak passengers, the Benkelman derailment caused Amtrak operations management and BNSF officials to halt the CZ’s westbound counterpart train just west of the station in Hastings, NE, and sat there for five hours, with an undetermined load of passengers before finally returning the train to the Hastings depot and allowing the stranded passengers to detrain. The inconvenienced westbound passengers were bussed to Denver, CO, where they were put aboard another Amtrak train.