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Trestle Fire Stops Amtrak Train in New Mexico; No Injuries

April 1, 1996

RIBERA, N.M. (AP) _ Arson is suspected in a fire that destroyed a 154-foot wooden railroad trestle and nearly ensnared an Amtrak passenger train, authorities said.

The train, with 145 passengers on board, was moving slowly enough to avert a fiery crash at 4 p.m. Sunday. Amtrak officials said no injuries were reported aboard the Southwest Chief, traveling from Albuquerque to Chicago.

``At first, I thought an oil pipeline had exploded,″ engineer Rick Ricke said. ``I knew something had blown up. It scared me.″ The train was less than one-fifth of a mile from the trestle when it stopped, he said.

Authorities hoped to interview children reportedly seen near the bridge about 30 minutes earlier, El Pueblo Fire Chief Catherine Clinger said.

``It might be some kids who messed up real bad,″ Clinger said.

There was no high wind at the time, San Miguel County Sheriff Phillip Romero said, and ``there’s no way a grass fire or a forest fire would be able to burn the railroad ties.″

Passengers on the Southwest Chief were rerouted after the train returned to Albuquerque. They were delayed seven hours, Amtrak said.

The trestle, about 40 feet above the Pecos River, is about 95 miles northeast of Albuquerque.

Ricke said he was able to stop the train, which had slowed to go around a curve, within two-tenths of a mile of the fire.

Firefighting attempts were futile, conductor Perry Childs said.

``The whole trestle just fell in on itself,″ Childs said. ``It was so hot you couldn’t get within 150 feet.″

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. owns the tracks and runs four freight trains across the bridge daily in addition to the two Amtrak trains that cross, said Mike Martin, a company spokesman in Chicago.

Last October, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited hurtled off a sabotaged stretch of track into a dry gulch near Hyder, Ariz., killing a crew member and injuring 78 people. FBI officials in Albuquerque said late Sunday that local authorities had not yet asked them to assist in the new investigation.

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