RUSSELL, Iowa — Amtrak's California Zephyr slammed into a railroad crane laying new track Monday, knocking both locomotives and 11 cars of the passenger train off the tracks and injuring at least 126 people, officials said.
"Everything was going smoothly and all of the sudden I heard the screeching of the brakes and everyone went flying," said passenger Mildred Faddis of Oakland, Calif. "There was debris everywhere. It was terrible."
Amtrak spokeswoman Debbie Marciniak said the railroad's 16-car No. 6 train was headed east toward Chicago shortly after 11:30 a.m. when it hit a crane being used by Burlington Northern, which operates the tracks across southern Iowa.
A preliminary investigation determined that a work crew moved the crane and another car onto the railroad siding to allow the Amtrak train to pass, but an improperly aligned switch put the train on the siding, causing the collision, a spokesman for Burlington Northern said.
At least 112 people were taken to the Lucas County Memorial Hospital in nearby Chariton, according to hospital spokeswoman Barbara Riggs, while three of the most seriously hurt, including two railroad workers, were flown by helicopter to hospitals in Des Moines.
She said at least nine of the injured would be hospitalized overnight, but that most of the injured suffered bumps, bruises or broken bones.
Marciniak said Amtrak's records showed 248 passengers and 22 crew members were on the train, but she said that number would not include those who failed to show or bought tickets at the last minute.
Investigators for Amtrak, Burlington Northern and the Federal Railroad Administration were at the scene near Russell.
"My understanding is that the (train) crew was given a radio signal to go ahead and then they came upon the open switch," said Tom Simpson, a Washington, D.C., spokesman for the FRA.