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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.

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