Amtrak Southwest Chief Derailment
The Amtrak Southwest Chief derailed near Kingman, Arizona Saturday
morning, August 9th, 1997.
Click here to read the NTSB Accident Report
Note: The most recent entries are at the top of this page and the
earlier entries are toward the bottom of this page.
Saturday, August 9, 1997, 10:45 PM
I was down at the Fullerton Amtrak Station from 8:45 PM until
10:15 PM. I haven't seen so main railfans at the Fullerton Station
since the last Desert Wind pulled through! They were all there for
the same reason: to see if the next eastbound Southwest Chief would
come through on schedule at 9:15 PM.
The Southwest Chief did not go through while I was there. I
followed the tracks all the way home from Fullerton to Anaheim
for about another 30 minutes. Thus, the Southwest Chief still
hadn't gone through at 10:45 PM. That would place it almost 2
hours behind schedule. I just checked the Amtrak on-line
information and found that there is no arrival history for that
train yet, which seems to indicate that the train still hasn't
left Los Angeles.
Although the Fullerton Station was full of railfans, nobody
seemed to know what Amtrak was planning to do. The station itself
was open, but the Agent wasn't at the window the two times that
I went into the station. The station normally stays open until
the last southbound train. That would be the San Diegan and
"Thru Coach Cars" of the southbound Coast Starlight. That train
is scheduled into Fullerton at 10:08 PM, but will run late if the
Coast Starlight arrives into Los Angeles late.
In addition to there being a lot of railfans in Fullerton, there
were more things unusual this evening. By 9:15 PM, the Fullerton
Station is usually full of passenger waiting to board the east
bound Southwest Chief. Not only is Fullerton the station where
people from the highly populated Orange County board this train,
but Fullerton is also the closest boarding station for much of
eastern Los Angeles County. Fullerton is also where all passengers
coming north from San Diego change trains, and there are usually
a lot of those! How many people did I see waiting to board the
eastbound Southwest Chief at Fullerton? None!
There were dozens of people at the station, but they were all
railfans or the curious. I didn't see anyone with a suitcase.
There is a baggage cart that is usually full of checked luggage
and luggage being transferred from the northbound San Diegan to
the Southwest Chief. The luggage cart was there, but it was
empty. Also, as the 9:15 PM scheduled arrival time of the train
approaches, there is usually an announcement about any delays
and the expected time of arrival. There wasn't a single
announcement made while I was in the station!
Best I could guess, Amtrak called all the passengers much earlier
in the day and had made some alternate arrangement for them. These
alternate arrangements must not have included boarding any train
or bus in Fullerton this evening!
If anyone can shed some light on how Amtrak is handling the east
bound Southwest Chief, please fill me in! I checked on the status
of the west bound Southwest Chief. It is currently running 2 hours
late. That means that it has not yet reached Flagstaff, Arizona.
The bridge that is out is after Flagstaff and just before Kingman,
Arizona. Thus, it is possible for a train to get as far as
Flagstaff not too late, but then be stuck there indefinitely.
Saturday, August 9, 1997, 12:46 PM
First video of the Amtrak Southwest Chief derailment has started to be
shown on CNN Headline News.
Saturday, August 9, 1997, 12:22 PM
Current information is that the train was full. This
is very common for the Southwest Chief during the summer season. There were
over 350 passengers on board. Current reports say that there were over 140
injured with about 50 serious injuries. However, current reports also say
that all were what are classified as "the walking injured". All injured
were able to walk into the hospital (Compare this to recent passenger
airline accidents?). No fatalities have been reported.
The cause of the accident is said to be a bridge that buckled due to
heavy rains in the area. Severe thunderstorms have been in the Phoenix
area yesterday and today. Rain from these storms is believed to have
contributed to the buckling of the bridge.
CNN reports that there are 4 train engines about a mile ahead of the
body of the train at this time. FBI investigators are on the way to
the scene, but no foul play is suspected at this time.
If you have friends or relatives that were traveling on this train,
further information can be obtained by calling a special phone number set
up by Amtrak: 1-800-523-9101.
The Amtrak Southwest Chief (train #4) schedule has it leaving Los Angeles
at 8:35 P.M. (Pacific Time) and Fullerton, California at 9:15 P.M.
Fullerton is the closest station to my home and I will often be down at
the Fullerton Station to see the Southwest Chief off at night. I wasn't
down there last night. I was at a movie theatre with my kids last night
that has its parking lot immediately next to the tracks over which that
Southwest Chief travels. We got out of the movie at 9:30 PM which is
exactly the time that the Southwest Chief passes behind the theatre, but
we didn't wait to watch it this time. I can hear the horn and see the
Southwest Chief as it heads through this part of my town around this time
from my house, though it is about 1 mile from my home.
The schedule has the Southwest Chief passing through San Bernardino at
10:17 PM, Victorville at 11:22 PM, Barstow at 11:59 PM, Needles at 2:27 AM,
and then Kingman, Arizona at 3:57 AM (MST), where it derailed.