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'City of New Orleans' Disaster
March 15, 1999
A few minutes after 8 o'clock on the evening of Monday March 15 1999, train #59, the City of New Orleans left Chicago slightly behind its scheduled departure time of 20.00. A little less than 2 hours later on a crossing near Bourbonnais Ill, the journey came to an abrupt and tragic end

Here, Danger Ahead! charts the events surrounding this accident, the suppositions and the investigation process and other developments as they were reported in the press.


the wreck
the train engineer had no chance of stopping
death toll & questions
confused and contradictory reports
the investigation begins
ntsb move in to begin probe
witnesses & the trucker
evidence begins to point to trucker's rashness
demand for truth
survivors and relatives speak
the victims
coroner releases names
crossing safety
what is to be done to prevent a similar tragedy?
danger ahead! coverage
reports & summaries
web resources
www links
visit the forum

Train Crash Remote: 10 worst american crashes

Amtrak's City of New Orleans


the wreck
monday march 15
Amtrak crash
Firefighters at the scene
At around a quarter to ten the 'City of New Orleans' thundered through Bourbonnais at the maximum speed for the area of 79 mph. As the train approached the crossing at McKnight Road the engineer saw a truck making its way across the tracks. With just 600 feet to go the engineer could do little more than close the trottle and sound a warning on the engines' horns. After the inevitable crash, emergency services were quickly on the scene. Their first priority to pluck survivors from the burning wreckage. Early reports were confused, many understating the number of casualties and the severity of the accident.

death toll & questions
tuesday march 16
With a mounting death toll (some sources were initially putting it as high as 14), questions were soon being asked about how such a catastrophe could happen. Why was the truck on the crossing? Who was at fault?

the investigation begins
wednesday march 17
train wreck central
clearing up at bourbonnais

(train wreck central)

By Wednesday morning the death toll had been revised to 11. Although the rescue effort continued as there was still a chance that there may have ben more bodies, it had been scaled down. The National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB)teams of investigators began a detailed examination of the wreckage and crash site. That night, they staged a reconstruction of the crash. Termed a "sighting test", they were able to determine at what distances the train engineer and the trucker would have been able to see each other.

witnesses & the trucker
thursday march 18
By Thursday, the media were reporting that a witness had come forward with vital information. Investigators were pondering the significance of tyre tracks found in the mud and which seemed to imply that the truck had tried to dodge the crossing barriers.

demand for truth
friday march 19
By Friday, the investigation was being wound down. Several more witnesses had come forward and were awaiting interrogation. Meanwhile, survivors and relatives of those who died were making their voices heard.

All the victims of the disaster were in the sleeping car which caught fire. Rescuers described their attempts to douse the flames that were continuing to be fed by fuel from the locomotives. Following the Amtrak crash at Silver Spring in Maryland in 1996, train operators agreed to construct locomotives with "spill-free" fuel tanks.

the victims
on saturday march 20, the kankakee coroner published a full list of the victims

danger ahead! coverage

web resources
time magazine
Death at the Crossing
A few hours outside Chicago, a fiery catastrophe ensues after a fabled train hits a flat-bed truck
national transportation safety board
NTSB Advisories

visit the forum
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Danger Ahead! created on:   March 22, 1999

Copyright © David Fry 1999