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Amtrak Train Hits Truck, Derails

July 9, 1999

EAGLE LAKE, Texas (AP) _ To Marie Smith, the derailment of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited was like a bump in the road, no big deal. It was much, much worse at the front of the passenger train.

``We felt the cars in front of us banging into each other and then saw the car in front of us tilt and go flying sideways,″ said Ann Johnson, 51, of Glendora, Calif., traveling with her 21-year-old daughter, Kristen. ``When we looked out the window, we saw the engine coming toward us.″

Eighteen of the 235 people aboard were taken to the hospital Thursday afternoon after the train collided with a truck at a rural crossing about 60 miles west of Houston.

The train, on its way from Los Angeles to Orlando, Fla., slammed into the truck carrying a salt water disposal tank, tearing its two engines and eight of 13 cars from the tracks.

The lead locomotive was thrown onto its side, and rescuers broke its windshield to pull the engineer and a trainee from the wreckage.

The engineer was the most seriously injured, and remained hospitalized early today with a head injury. David Keith, an administrator of the Rice Medical Center, said the man’s condition was not life-threatening.

Passengers were released after being treated for minor bumps and bruises, joining others on buses bound for Houston, the train’s next scheduled stop.

The truck driver, whom police identified as Jason Bubela, 21, was not seriously hurt. Police were looking into potential charges against him, but none were immediately filed.

Passengers in the front of the train fared worst.

``All of a sudden, the train jerked back and forth, back and forth, and there were big noises,″ said Fatima Talebi, 52, of Irvine, Calif. ``I knew something was going to happen. I heard a lot of yelling and praying.″

But those at the back seemed as if they had been aboard another train.

``It was fairly calm,″ said Ms. Smith, 24, of Dublin, Ireland, who was seated near the end. ``We just walked to the exit.″

Among the uninjured passengers was Cindy McCain, wife of Republican presidential candidate and Arizona Sen. John McCain, and their son, Jack, 13.

Cranes tried to right the derailed cars and crews tried to repair 800 feet of damaged track to reopen one of the country’s main east-west rail links. About 28 trains use the track daily, railroad officials said.

The Sunset Limited was involved in the worst accident in Amtrak’s 28-year history. On Sept. 22, 1993, 42 passengers and five crew members died when the train plunged off a bridge into a bayou near Mobile, Ala. The bridge had been damaged minutes earlier by a towboat.

In March, Amtrak’s City of New Orleans ran into a truck at a crossing in Bourbonnais, Ill., killing 11 people and injuring more than 100.

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