NODAWAY, Iowa (AP) An Amtrak train carrying 210 people from Chicago to California derailed in rural Iowa, killing one passenger, injuring 96 others and leaving a zigzagging trail of silver cars along a muddy embankment.
The train engineer said he felt the train “tugging” before the crash Saturday night, although investigators said yesterday that it was too early to say whether a broken rail was responsible for the crash.
Ted Turpin, investigator in charge with the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators discovered pieces of broken rail amid the wreckage of the California Zephyr train.
“It”s very hard to determine whether that happens underneath a derailment or prior to or just exactly when that happens. That will be part of our investigation. We haven”t reached a conclusion,” he said.
The train”s two locomotives and 16 cars were carrying 195 passengers and 15 crew members, NTSB officials said. Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn said company policy forbids it from releasing the victim”s name and a list of passengers.
NTSB investigators, expected to be on the scene through tomorrow, said information contained in the train”s “black box” revealed the train was traveling at 52 mph when it derailed. The posted speed for the stretch of track is 79 mph.
About 3,000 feet of track were ripped up, and the sections will be tested by the NTSB.
“He felt the train tugging, and then he applied the brakes with an emergency application and brought the train to a stop,” Turpin said of the train”s engineer. “However, at the same time the train was derailing behind him.”
Turpin said the track was visually inspected about three times per week, although he did not know when it was last inspected. The track was also inspected once a month by an ultrasound device able to find defects inside the rail.
Investigators were considering the possibility of whether an internal defect, called transverse fissure, may have occurred when the steel in the rail was forged. They also plan to look at the stability of the bed and whether snow melt or saturation was a factor in the accident.
“There are signs to look for. We just don”t have them right now,” Turpin said.
NTSB officials requested records from the track owner, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad, on the number of trains that pass through the area daily and annually.
“Something appears to have been wrong back in the train between the interface of the wheels and the rail something we still haven”t determined that,” Turpin said.
Charlie Romstad of Colorado Springs, Colo., said in a telephone call to The Associated Press that the passenger killed was his mother, Stella Riehl, 69, also of Colorado Springs.