Railroad News

Big Rig, Amtrak Collision May Take Days to Investigate

A collision between Amtrak’s “San Joaquin” passenger train, traveling from Oakland, CA to Bakersfield, CA with 169 passengers and a crew of four on board, and an 18-wheeler carrying trash and residue from cotton gin production at the crossing of Kansas Avenue and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks early Monday afternoon in Hanford, CA.

Amtrak spokesperson Vernae Graham said 39 of the passengers were injured, the most serious one suffering a broken leg, and were either treated at the scene or distributed among three area hospitals. Adventist Medical Center in Hanford, Community Medical Center in Fresno, CA and Adventist Medical Center in Selma, CA handled the flood of patients sent to them for various injuries.

The truck driver, Macario Medina, 32 of McFarland, CA received moderate injuries and was hospitalized as well after his 18-wheeler allegedly went through lowered gates and flashing signals, or so several witnesses claimed, before striking the train’s locomotive, which then careened 600 feet southbound down the tracks before striking a track switch and derailing itself as well as two of its passenger cars.

The train was operating in “push” mode, with the locomotive engineer in a cab compartment in the lead passenger car and the locomotive travelling behind and pushing the four car consist. The locomotive and two cars next to it were leaning at degrees from 45 to 15 percent, held from tipping over only by the two cars that stayed on the track.

“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,” recalled passenger Edmund Sanders, who was aboard the train only because he had missed a Greyhound bus from Fresno to his home in Los Angeles, CA. Speaking of the relatively minor injuries and lack of any fatalities in the accident, he added “I really think that God had his hands on that train today.”

California Highway Spokesman Jerry Pierce said that “Investigators will try to determine if the crash was caused by driver error, a malfunctioning crossing arm, or something else.” But Pierce added that the investigation was “going to take a very long time.”

“We won’t know probably for a couple more days,” Pierce explained. “We’re hoping when everything is said and done we have an answer.”

Regardless of signalization, the BNSF/Kansas Avenue crossing has a troubled past, having now been the site of a dozen accidents resulting in one fatality, seven highway user injuries and 59 Amtrak passenger injuries. Amtrak trains travel through the area at a maximum speed of 79 mph.