- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Washington Nationals experienced a jolt during their trip home from New York early yesterday morning when the team’s charter train derailed, a minor accident that caused no injuries but resulted in a long night.

According to an Amtrak official, the Nationals charter derailed around 1:30 a.m. just north of Wilmington, Del., when the locomotive’s rear wheels dislodged from the tracks. None of the three passenger cars were affected, but team personnel sitting in the first car (including manager Frank Robinson and his coaching staff) felt two big bumps before the train came to a screeching halt.

“Hair-raising,” Robinson said before last night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Everything remained upright,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Tracy Connell. “There were no injuries to anyone onboard the train.”

The company has not determined what caused the regional charter train to derail, but Connell said such incidents are “pretty uncommon.” The train remained on the tracks until about 10:45 a.m., leading to brief delays on all of Amtrak’s commercial routes yesterday morning.

Most of the Nationals’ 50-passenger traveling party seated in the two rear cars (including owner Mark Lerner and wife, Judy) did not feel anything and were unaware there had been a problem until the train’s lights went out and it came to a stop.

“It just started to shake a little bit and then the lights went off and it came to a stop quicker than usual,” said catcher Brian Schneider, who was playing cards with teammates. “We didn’t know what was happening. Then we saw people outside with flashlights looking at where the track was broken.”

The group was forced to wait through a 1-hour, 40-minute delay before an Acela train pulled up alongside and transported the team back to Washington’s Union Station, where it finally arrived shortly before 5 a.m.

The team was fortunate that the train, which typically travels in excess of 90 mph, had slowed to about 35 mph as it approached the Wilmington station.

“If we had been going fast,” Schneider said, “it would have been bad.”

Despite the brief scare, team officials and players all said they wouldn’t hesitate to ride the train in the future.

Johnson in rehab

Nick Johnson was transferred yesterday from a Queens, N.Y., hospital to another facility in White Plains that specializes in physical rehabilitation.

Johnson, who fractured his right femur in a violent collision with teammate Austin Kearns on Saturday against the Mets, is expected to spend seven to 10 days at the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital before returning to Washington.

Doctors initially hoped the 28-year-old first baseman would be mobile enough to join the team on the train ride home Monday night. Johnson, though, still isn’t comfortable maneuvering around on crutches and hasn’t been able to put much weight on his surgically repaired leg.

He’ll undergo more extensive physical therapy at the rehab hospital but likely won’t be back in the District before the end of the season. Johnson then will be examined by team orthopedist Ben Shaffer.

Extra bases

Pitching coach Randy St. Claire appeared briefly at RFK Stadium yesterday but still wasn’t feeling well enough to work and thus missed his fourth straight game with pneumonia.

The Nationals announced plans for “Fan Appreciation Weekend” during their season-ending series against the Mets. The first 15,000 fans attending Friday’s game will receive a fleece blanket, all fans at Saturday’s game will get a team photo with the 2007 schedule and all fans at Sunday’s finale will be given Nationals long-sleeve T-shirts. …

Former Montreal Expos player Gary Carter was selected by fans as the franchise’s “Hometown Heroes” winner.

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