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Historic Railway Disasters
17 Mar 99



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USA: Death toll revised to 11 in Amtrak crash

The death toll is now put at eleven following Monday's rail accident when Amtrak's 'City of New Orleans' collided with a flatbed truck near the Illinois town of Bourbonnais.

Photo: Chicago Tribune
The accident scene at Bourbonnais

The accident occurred on Monday March 15, 1999 at about 21.40 when the express was barely an hour into its overnight run to New Orleans. A flatbed semi-trailer truck carrying heavy steel rods from the nearby Birmingham Steel Corporation's mill crossed in the path of the train at a grade crossing.

The train consisted of two locomotives 2 baggage cars and 12 passenger cars. Officials are uncertain as to how many people were travelling on the train. The locomotives both overturned as did two baggage cars which were coupled behind the locomotives. Four of the passenger cars were derailed. Fire broke out in one of the locomotives and fed by spilled diesel fuel it quickly engulfed first passenger vehicle, a double-decker sleeping car. This is reported to have split in half and it was here that the 13 deaths occurred.

The train struck the flat-bed trailer but did not hit the tractor unit
According to an NTSB official in a briefing, the local coroner has stated that 11 and not 13 as previously announced, are believed to have died. Of the hundred or so injured, 25 are still in hospital.

Bourbonnais is about 50 miles (80 km) south of Chicago and Amtrak trains are permitted to pass through the area at speeds of upto 79 mph. Reports from rescuers indicate that the crossing gates were in the up (open for road users) position. Rescuers however have reported that when they arrived at the scene they found the warning lights flashing. This is one of the puzzles that National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will want to address as it begins its investigation into the accident.

amtrak logoAmtrak has been the United State's main rail passenger carrier for 27 years. In that time, it has suffered a number of serious accidents. It's worst accident in recent years was in Silver Spring, Maryland when a commuter train was in collision with the 'Capital Limited' in February 1996. Amtrak's worst-ever accident was on 22 December 1993 at Mobile Alabama when a barge struck a bridge over a bayou dislodging bridge supports. As the 'Sunset Limited' crossed the bridge, it collapsed plunging several cars into the murky water below. Forty-two people were killed.

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Full Coverage

Hope Dims In Search For More Amtrak Survivors
Chicago Tribune

Amtrak derailment toll climbs to 12
CNN 16/03/99

Birmingham Steel Corporation Issues Statement on Illinois Train Accident
Company Press Release

Vehicles on Tracks a Train Problem

National Transportation Safety Board
Home page

Related items

Images from Boubonnais

Explosives train derails

Collision on the Brunswick Line
Silver Spring, Maryland


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