An Amtrak passenger train bound for Chicago and a local commuter train crashed head-on just north of the nation’s capital during a snowstorm Friday. At least 12 people were killed and a score were injured.
A massive roar, apparently an electrical explosion, followed the collision as the two Amtrak locomotives and several other cars jumped the tracks. One Amtrak locomotive and several passenger cars from the commuter train were engulfed in flames. The locomotive’s front was demolished, its side torn with a gaping hole, its engineer’s cab heavily damaged.
“When the firefighters first arrived at the scene, there were people banging on the windows and trying to get out,” said Lt. Denise Fox, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County, Md., fire department.
The dead were trapped in a car of the commuter train, victims of multiple trauma and fire, she said. None was immediately identified.
At least 21 people were injured in the fiery crash, officials said. Among the commuter train passengers were 14 Job Corps trainees. Warren Monks, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Administration, said the commuter train was carrying only 17 passengers and three crewmen.
Mike Ross of Sandpoint, Idaho, was sitting in the Amtrak train’s seventh car. “Most of the people in my car were on the floor” after the crash, Ross said. “We hit a commuter train head-on. We hit them pretty hard. It threw a lot of people on the ground.”
Mike Hall, a Montgomery County spokesman, said bodies of the dead were left in the wreck as investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board combed through the twisted steel.
Brian Hall, a volunteer firefighter, said passengers were panicking when he and another rescuer clambered aboard the Amtrak train.
“There were about 30 people in that particular car, who looked like they were in a total state of disarray,” Hall said. “We grabbed two or three of the more seriously injured ones and loaded them into ambulances.
“Some were yelling, just frantically yelling, because of the tremendous shock. … Others were just sitting there like they didn’t know what had (happened),” he said.
The collision involved a 15-car Amtrak train led by two 130-ton locomotives, and a four-car commuter train led by a coach weighing only about 60 tons. The commuter train’s locomotive was pushing from the rear.
It occurred about 5:45 p.m. EST, about half an hour after Amtrak’s Capitol Limited carrying 175 passengers plus crew departed from Washington’s Union Station bound for Chicago.
The commuter train was being pushed toward Union Station but was stopped just north of the District of Columbia city limit when the Amtrak locomotive crashed head-on into passenger cars on the local train, said Nanci Philips, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration.