DISASTER IN THE DESERT: Two killed, many injured in Amtrak accident
June 25, 2011
FALLON, Nev. – At least two people died Friday morning in a fiery collision between an Amtrak train and a semi-truck on a rural northern Nevada highway, 35 miles north of Fallon.
Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Lopez said the male driver and a person on the train were killed in the 11:25 a.m. accident today on U.S. 95.
“A commercial vehicle failed to yield to the Amtrak, striking the Amtrak in the second dorm car, which is the fourth car back,” Lopez said.
According to Capt. John Haugen of the Churchill County Sheriff’s Department, the accident happened at the railroad crossing about a mile south of Trinity Junction at Interstate 80 and Highway 95 Alternate in Churchill County.
Nevada Department of Transporation Spokesman Scott Magruder said the road will be closed through tomorrow.
“U.S. 95 between I-80 and Fallon is closed indefinitely, it will not be open anytime soon,” he said.
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People are directed to take an alternate route on Highway 50A.
All passengers have been evacuated from the train and three Churchill County School District buses transported them to E.C. Best Elementary in Fallon, which is located across the street from Banner Churchill Community Hospital.
Up to 20 people of the train’s passengers and crew were injured, Lopez added. Several were taken from the scene by helicopter to BCCH or Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.
Exact details are still under investigation, Lopez said.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Oakland, Calif., said most of the injuries were not life threatening, but he had no other immediate details about injuries. He said 204 passengers and 14 crew members were aboard the California Zephyr en route from Chicago to Emeryville, Calif., about 300 miles west of the crash site.
The semi was traveling northbound toward I-80. Lopez also said there were witnesses to the incident that confirmed the railroad crossing signals were down and working at the time of the accident.
The crash shut down a section of U.S. 95 between I-80 and Fallon for most of the day.
“It’s going to take them a while to take all the shots we need to actually confirm what happened in this incident,” Lopez said.
The tracks cross the highway about three miles south of I-80 in the heart of the Forty-Mile Desert, which was considered one of the deadliest sections of the entire overland journey by California-bound, covered-wagon pioneers in the 19th century.
“This is going to be an extensive clean-up,” he said.
Many agencies responded to the scene of the accident including Naval Air Station Fallon that dispatched three Navy search and rescue helicopters and the Federal Fire Department.
“People who were off today were called back to man the base,” said Fire Chief Willie Youles.
There were two crash trucks, a rescue truck, a brush truck and a command vehicle on site, he added.
“Those crash trucks are worth their weight and gold,” Youles said.
NAS Fallon Executive Officer Otto Sieber confirmed flight operations were suspended at the base until the federal fire trucks were released from the accident.
The following agencies responded:
Churchill County Sheriff’s Office, Fallon/Churchill and Naval Air Station Fallon fire departments, Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Highway Patrol, Navy Search and Rescue and ambulances from REMSA, Pershing County, Banner Churchill Community Hospital and Central Lyon County, Care Flight helicopter and three Navy search and rescue helicopters.