Local News

55 hurt when Amtrak train slams into truck in Halifax County

Posted March 9, 2015 1:00 p.m. EDT
Updated March 10, 2015 10:21 a.m. EDT

— Dozens of passengers were injured Monday when an Amtrak train traveling from Charlotte to New York slammed into a tractor-trailer that got stuck at an intersection in Halifax County, authorities said.

Fifty-five of the 212 passengers aboard the Carolinian No. 80 were taken to area hospitals with mostly minor injuries. It was unclear whether any of the eight crew members were injured.

The accident happened about 12:15 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. Highway 301 and N.C. Highway 903, about 30 miles north of Rocky Mount. The force of the impact derailed the locomotive and baggage car and sent debris flying. The train's engine was on its side while the other cars remained upright.

Amber Keeter, who was traveling in a car behind the tractor-trailer, said the truck driver had been struggling to make a left turn onto U.S. 301 when the train rumbled into view and collided with the rig, which was hauling a modular electrical building covered in a blue tarp.

She said a state trooper had been there for several minutes trying to help the driver before the crash.

"It wasn't so much they got stuck (on the tracks)," Keeter said. "They could not make the turn. They were too long."

The truck driver, John Devin Black of Claremont, was not in the vehicle when it was hit and was not hurt, authorities said.

Authorities identified the train conductor as Keenan Talley of Raleigh. They did not say if Talley was injured.

No criminal charges will be filed in the incident, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said.

Charlotte Story, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was riding in the seventh car at the back of the train.

"There was a massive jerk and we were kind of thrown forward a little bit, and the train came to a sudden stop," she said. "I couldn't tell you if it was trying to slow down or not. There was no whistle. It came completely out of the blue."

Story said "a lot of ambulances" came to help those who were injured, but she didn't think any of the injuries were serious. Buses also arrived to transfer passengers to transit stations so they could continue their journeys.

"There was a little girl behind me, and since the trains don't have seat belts, she was completely thrown out of her chair," Story said, adding that the girl was unhurt.

Lenora Travis boarded the train in Charlotte and was trying to sleep when she heard a sound and felt the impact.

"We didn't know what happened," she said. "It was a lot of chaos and panic because people had left their seats."

Travis, who was heading home to New Jersey and had her father's remains with her on the train, was in the fifth car. She said when the train stopped, her car was tilted on the track along with several other cars. She hurt her shoulder but did not require medical attention.

"Thank God that nobody died," she said. "Thank God it was just bumps, bruises, a little cuts. I'm sure I'll probably feel something tomorrow, but I'm not going to complain about it."

Lt. Jeff Gordon with the highway patrol said the 164-foot-long truck simply needed more time to maneuver the turn. The trooper who was trying to help the driver asked that Amtrak be notified, he said, but it was a matter of minutes before the train arrived.

"The No. 1 thing we want to do is provide safety for everybody," Gordon said. "Things happen within the blink of an eye. We try to do what we could, and in this case we didn't have enough time."

State transportation officials said the truck had a permit for an oversized load, but there is no notification requirement for oversized or overweight vehicles crossing railroad tracks.

Keeter, who was with her 4-month-old son, said she felt helpless as she watched the impact from her car.

"Just shock, complete shock and worry for everyone that was on the train," she said. "I just felt like I couldn't do anything. It was almost like a horror movie."

Tina Jones also was waiting in her car at the intersection and captured video of the heart-stopping crash on her cellphone. She let out a scream as she watched the train smash into the rig.

"I don't know anyone that was on the train," she said. "But we're all people, we're all as one. It just felt personal, that's why I was hollering the way I was."

Authorities closed N.C. 903, U.S. 301 and N.C. 125 in both directions at the location of the accident, and a detour was set up. The damaged train was cleared from the area at about 11 p.m. It was not immediately known when the intersection will reopen.

The Halifax County Sheriff's Office, the highway patrol and the state Department of Transportation are investigating the accident along with Amtrak. Gov. Pat McCrory was being briefed on the investigation.

"We are relieved that there are no fatalities reported at this time, and our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured," Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said in a statement. "Safety is always our top priority, and we continue to urge everyone to use extreme caution and stay alert when crossing our railroad tracks."

The truck belongs to Guy M. Turner Inc., an industrial transport specialist based in Greensboro. The company released a statement saying they are investigating the accident and do not have details yet.

The company has a better-than-average safety record, according to public documents. It had fewer trucks and drivers taken out of service during inspections than the national average. The trailer of the truck involved in the accident passed inspection in December in Indiana, according to safety records.

Forty injured passengers were taken to Halifax Regional Medical Center and had been released by early evening, a hospital spokesperson said. Another 14 were treated at Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount, and one person with serious injuries was taken by air to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville.

Amtrak has set up a phone number for people with questions about family and friends who were aboard the train. The number is 800-523-9101.

Passengers scheduled to travel north between Raleigh and Richmond via Amtrak on Tuesday will be transported by chartered bus.