Amtrak train hits pickup west of Glenwood Springs; driver injured, passengers OK
May 31, 2016
Amtrak's westbound California Zephyr train struck a pickup truck Tuesday afternoon and pushed it about 500 feet at a crossing just west of Glenwood Springs.
40-year-old Ever Vega from Glenwood Springs, the driver of the truck, reportedly crawled and walked away from his demolished 2011 Dodge Ram 3500 and was taken to Valley View Hospital for treatment. Colorado State Patrol reported that he sustained minor injuries. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said no one on the train, which was carrying 191 passengers, was hurt.
Several emergency responders at the scene said that while vehicle-train accidents are rare, it's even more rare for people in the vehicles to survive.
Vega is being charged with failure to obey a railroad crossing and failure to provide proof of insurance.
The accident ruptured a 500-gallon diesel tank on the lead locomotive, and hazmat teams worked through the afternoon to keep the fuel and oil spilling from the engine out of the adjacent Colorado River, said Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson. The pollutants apparently were kept on the railbed.
On the train, which travels from Chicago to San Francisco, passengers were settling in after a regular midday Glenwood Springs stop.
"We were just sitting there talking and then we heard the train toot its horn and felt a jolt, and all of a sudden we saw a bunch of dirt flying in the air and the brakes went on and we stopped fairly quickly," said Lauri Cannon, from Syracuse, Utah. "Everybody was very calm. They went on the intercom and said they had an incident on the track."
It was Cannon's first train ride.
"We didn't feel the impact because we were so far back from the engines," said Jerry Getter, a passenger from Corning, Iowa. "We felt the braking. … All we could see was the cloud of smoke on the south side and the big heavy steel trailer" that was being pulled by the pickup.
"We knew it had just happened because the wheels on the trailer were still spinning around when we looked out the window," said his wife, Patricia.
The Zephyr was delayed, with the engine stuck just west of the South Canyon Road crossing off of Interstate 70 about 3 miles from Glenwood.
For about 90 minutes after the crash, crews had trouble stanching the leak from the lead locomotive, which appeared to have struck the rear of the pickup.
As it became clear that the train would be delayed for some time as crews cleaned up, some passengers were walking away from the train and trying to arrange other transportation.
Shortly before 4 p.m., crews decoupled the rest of the train from the lead engine, which not only was leaking, but was still stuck to the mashed pickup. The passenger cars were taken back to Glenwood so travelers could get off. By 7 p.m., the locomotive was gone from the site and the pickup was being removed. About 30 minutes later the passenger cars in Glenwood Springs began chugging westward again.
Magliari, who works in Chicago, didn't know if the train engineers deployed their brakes before the collision or whether the train was up to full speed.
The crossing, which leads to a landfill and a remote area, has a signal and audible warning, but not crossing arms. Because the pickup was hauling the trailer, emergency workers thought he might have been returning from the landfill.
Patricia Getter, one of the Iowa passengers, said her family took Amtrak to Glenwood Springs for vacation last year.
"Stayed at the Hot Springs Lodge with the entire family," she said. "Irony is, the trip we are on now is to compensate for that trip because it was so late — like 24 hours late. Iowa had a tornado and had debris on the track so you could forgive that. But on the way back to Iowa, we blew an engine and had to wait an extra 14, so this is just another thing."
Will Grandbois and Jennie Trejo contributed to this story.