Federal investigators said an Amtrak train engineer noticed a deformity in the railroad tracks and pulled the brakes shortly before several cars derailed and toppled over in southwest Kansas early Monday morning, critically injuring two passengers.
The Amtrak derailment occurred just after midnight a couple miles outside of Cimarron, a small rural Kansas community between Wichita and Amarillo, Texas. The train line, which Amtrak calls the Southwest Chief, was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago when it derailed.
Amtrak reported that 32 people were taken to local hospitals and treated mostly for minor injuries. A number of people spoke to the press and reported bruises, sprains, concussions, and other head injuries they sustained from being tossed about the cars. Most of the patients were released by Monday afternoon.
The two critically injured patients were airlifted and flown to Northwest Texas Health System in Amarillo, Texas, about 230 miles southwest of the crash site.
Many of the passengers said they were asleep and wakened by the train shaking from side to side. The power went out, casting the train into darkness, and passengers and crew were thrown about when the first five train cars fell onto their side. Panic initially broke out when water running through the train was mistaken for fuel, but calm reportedly resumed once passengers realized that there was no fuel or fire aboard the train.
The train, made up of two locomotives and nine passenger cars, was carrying 131 passengers and 14 crew members. Five of the cars derailed and flipped onto their side.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials arrived at the scene Monday to start an investigation, which could take several months to complete. One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that the railroad track may have been damaged in a prior, unreported crash.
BNSF owns that stretch of railroad and told the press that the tracks were not poorly maintained. A company official told the AP that the track is inspected twice per week and meets Federal Railroad Administration safety code.