- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

NODAWAY, Iowa An Amtrak train carrying 210 persons from Chicago to California derailed in rural Iowa, killing one passenger, injuring 96 others and leaving a zigzagging trail of silver cars along a muddy embankment.
The train engineer said he felt the train "tugging" before the crash Saturday night, although investigators said yesterday that it was too early to say whether a broken rail was responsible for the crash.
Ted Turpin, investigator in charge with the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators discovered pieces of broken rail amid the wreckage of the California Zephyr train.
"It's very hard to determine whether that happens underneath a derailment or prior to or just exactly when that happens. That will be part of our investigation. We haven't reached a conclusion," he said.
At least seven of the injured passengers were hospitalized, and dozens of others were treated for minor injuries. Some crew members also sustained injuries, an Amtrak spokeswoman said.
The train's two locomotives and 16 cars were carrying 195 passengers and 15 crew members, NTSB officials said. Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn said company policy forbids it from releasing the victim's name and a list of passengers.
NTSB investigators, expected to be on the scene through tomorrow, said the train was traveling at 52 mph when it derailed. The posted speed for the stretch of track is 79 mph. About 3,000 feet of track were ripped up, and the sections will be tested by the NTSB.
"He felt the train tugging, and then he applied the brakes with an emergency application and brought the train to a stop," Mr. Turpin said of the train's engineer. "However, at the same time the train was derailing behind him."
Mr. Turpin said the track was visually inspected about three times per week, although he did not know when it was last inspected. The track was also inspected once a month by an ultrasound device able to find defects inside the rail.
Investigators were considering the possibility of whether an internal defect, called transverse fissure, may have occurred when the steel in rail was forged. They also plan to look at the stability of the bed, snow melt or saturation was a factor in the accident.
"There are signs to look for. We just don't have them right now," Mr. Turpin said.
NTSB officials requested records from the track owner, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad, on the number of trains that pass through the area daily and annually.
"Something appears to have been wrong back in the train between the interface of the wheels and the rail something we still haven't determined that," Mr. Turpin said.
Charlie Romstad of Colorado Springs said in a telephone call to the Associated Press that the passenger killed was his mother, Stella Riehl, 69, also of Colorado Springs.
Mr. Romstad, 46, said his mother came to Des Moines last week because her brother, who was living in a Des Moines nursing home, had died.
"We picked up the ashes on Saturday. She was taking them back to Colorado Springs when the accident happened," Mr. Romstad said.
The scene of the wreckage stretched about one-fourth of a mile. Workers began picking up debris near the tipped-over cars, some of which formed a V-shape along the tracks.
"I think everybody was amazed that there weren't more fatalities and injuries," said Nodaway Fire Chief Larry Pond.
Mr. Turpin said three passengers were seriously injured, 96 were treated for injuries and 80 had been released from hospitals by late yesterday. He said 12 of the train's 15 employees sustained injuries, and one was still hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
Shaheda Ula, 47, of Laramie, Wyo., was taken to University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and was listed in fair condition with a hip fracture.
"[The train] just shook and shook again, and everybody screamed," she said from her hospital bed. "I don't remember anything after that."
Her husband, Sadrul, was not injured, nor was her daughter, 14-year-old Nafisa.
The train left Chicago on time at 3:35 p.m. and was headed to Emeryville, Calif., according to the Amtrak reservation office. Romstad said the train was delayed about an hour when his mother boarded it in Osceola, Iowa, at 10:50 p.m.
Jim Anderson, who lives off a winding gravel road less than a mile from the crash site, said he was in bed when the derailment startled him and his dog.
"I thought my furnace blowed up. I heard a bunch of grinding and then boom," he said. "That dog of mine jumped out of bed and started growling at the window."
Passenger Mary Clare Maloney, 16, of Des Moines, said she was on the top deck of a car playing cards when the derailment happened.
"The first thing was where the lights flickered and went out," she said. "Then there was bump and that was not a big deal but we started going faster into the ditch."
She said she waited more than an hour to be rescued. Her train car was at a 45-degree angle, she said, tipped so she walked on the wall and not the floor. "That was kind of weird and dizzying," she said.
Amtrak's customer response team was investigating as were investigators from the National Transportation and Safety Board.
Bryan Kannas, emergency management coordinator for the Adams County Sheriff's department, said the derailment happened on a straightaway located between the communities of Nodaway and Brooks. That section of track is owned and maintained by Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad.
Steve Forsberg, a spokesman for Burlington Northern, did not know whether other train derailments had occurred along the stretch of tracks.
Passengers were taken to a community center in Nodaway where they were served breakfast.
"They were kind of, like you'd think, shook up over it," Nodaway Mayor Robert Pafford said. "After they settled down a little bit, they realized they had sores here and there and they were just bumps and bruises."

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