Federal investigators probing the March 14 derailment of the Amtrak Southwestern Chief in Cimarron, Kan., said that a commercial truck delivering feed to a cattle ranch struck the train track earlier and shifted it at least a foot.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the deformity in the track caused Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, which travels between Los Angeles and Chicago, to derail shortly after midnight as many passengers were sleeping.
Eight train cars drove off the tracks and four toppled over onto their sides, injuring at least 32 passengers, including two who remain in the hospital with critical injuries.
The NTSB’s report jibes with an account given by the train’s engineer, who reported that he spotted an anomaly in the tracks and applied the brakes. The train was traveling about 60 mph when the emergency brakes were pulled, and the train stopped 18 seconds later after traveling an additional 919 feet.
The truck that allegedly struck the tracks belongs to Cimarron Crossing Feeders LLC. Investigators found fresh tire tracks on both sides of where the rail was deformed, indicating the truck left the road that runs parallel to the tracks. The tire tracks were not located at a designated track crossing.
NTSB investigators put up crime scene tape at the site to preserve the evidence, and reported that Cimarron Crossing was cooperating fully with its investigation.
Investigators also said that forward facing video from the lead locomotive and other cameras and recorders were useful in identifying the “localized distortion” in the track where the train derailed.
Records from BNSF, which owns the track, said that it had last been inspected the Thursday before the derailment. The rail company has repaired more than 1,000 feet of track since the crash, allowing both passenger and freight rail service to resume.
BNSF has appealed to the public to report any incidents involving railroad tracks to their emergency number, which is posted at all rail crossings on its tracks.