(Halifax, North Carolina – March 9, 2015)
55 passengers and train crew members were transported to a North Carolina hospital after Amtrak’s New York-bound “Carolinian” smashed into a large electrical building being hauled by a specially-equipped high/wide load trailer and being escorted along its route by troopers from the North Carolina Highway Patrol at a signalized grade crossing of CSX railroad tracks and North Carolina Highway 903 at about 12:15 P.M., EDT, Monday afternoon..
The collision, which came after the load-under-escort was unable to negotiate a left turn onto northbound NC Highway 301, which closely parallels CSX railroad tracks at that point, and backed up to cut a wider turn onto the heavily-traveled highway 301.
NCHP Spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon said the special load was enroute from Clayton, NC to a destination in New Jersey, and that NCHP troopers were to escort the load to the Virginia state line, where their counterparts from Virginia would take over.
The Amtrak train, one of a daily average of 27 freight and passenger trains which operate through that corridor and at a maximum speed of 70 mph over that crossing, also known as Halifax Road, was carrying 212 passengers and a crew of eight, 55 of whom were transported for treatment of their varying injuries to Halifax Regional Medical Center. According to Amtrak Spokesman Michael Cole, uninjured passengers were transported to a nearby agricultural center before being picked up by buses for transport to “other destinations.”
The locomotive derailed and turned onto its side, while the train’s baggage car and first two coaches derailed but remained upright. The remainder of the train stayed on the rails, but the train’s engineer was among the injured and was taken to the hospital.
Passenger Patrick Narmi, a 21-year-old North Carolina State University student who had boarded the train in Raleigh, NC for a trip to New York City said that he had just returned to his coach seat after a visit to the train’s snack car when the Train “braked harder than usual,” and that “A few seconds later, I heard the impact,” which knocked him head-first into the seat ahead of him and then to the floor of the car. He said that, once passengers were allowed to leave the train, he could see the wreckage of both the electrical building and the train itself.
Another passenger, University of North Carolina student Charlotte Story said “There was a massive jerk, and we were kind of thrown forward a little bit, and the train came to a sudden stop. I couldn’t tell you if it was trying to slow down or not,” adding that “There was no whistle. It came completely out of the blue.”
The CSX crossing where the accident occurred has experienced six earlier collisions, two of them involving Amtrak trains, according to Federal Railroad Administration crossing inventory stats. The crossing is fully signalized with flashing lights and gates, but the activated crossing gates came down upon the truck, according to NCHP’s Lt. Gordon.