A Southern Pacific freight train, carrying automobiles and electronic goods from Los Angeles to Chicago, derailed six miles east of Palm Springs early Saturday, scattering 36 rail cars and killing one transient who had sneaked on board, railroad officials reported.
Three other transients were injured. No injuries were reported among the train's three crew members, and its 57 rail cars carried no passengers, Southern Pacific Transportation Co. spokesman Bob Hoppe said.
However, clean-up crews were searching late Saturday for a second transient thought to be aboard, and officials speculated that several other transients also may have been killed.
Railroad officials attempted to piece together reports on the riders from the three transients who were treated for minor injuries Saturday at Desert Hospital in Palm Springs, Hoppe said. A fourth transient apparently was uninjured in the crash, he said.
"There is no way to know how many were on the train, and whether any of them ran away" after the accident, the spokesman said. "We have all our crew people accounted for."
Damage from the 12:05 a.m. accident on Southern Pacific's main line 100 miles east of Los Angeles could take days to calculate, Hoppe said. Five of the derailed flat cars were carrying new automobiles--as many of 15 or 20 apiece, he said. Other cars were carrying an assortment of cargo ranging from television sets to roller skates.
Blame on Coupler
Officials blamed the accident on a faulty coupler, which apparently gave way and caused equipment to drag. That apparently triggered the breakup and derailment of the train's rear section, Hoppe said.
The wreckage blocked the rail line until 3 p.m. Saturday, causing an eight-hour delay of an Amtrak passenger train bound from Los Angeles to New Orleans. That train, carrying 250 passengers, was forced to detour on Santa Fe tracks to Phoenix, where it was to resume its normal route, an Amtrak supervisor said.
The Amtrak train is expected to make up about three hours of that delay and arrive in New Orleans near midnight Monday evening, about five hours late, the Washington-based supervisor said.
No other passenger trains were affected by the derailment, officials said. Because of the light Saturday traffic, only a few other freight trains were held up by the accident and those began running as soon as the line was reopened, Hoppe said.