An Amtrak passenger train carrying 150 to 200 passengers crashed at 70 m.p.h. into a big-rig truck in dense fog near Stockton this morning, killing at least three and injuring dozens more--17 of them critically.
"There are about 50 walking wounded, including 25 in fairly serious condition," said Megan Todd, an official with the Office of Emergency Services in San Joaquin County.
The dead included the driver of the truck and the train's engineer and fireman, officials said.
The injured were being rushed to a half-dozen local hospitals by a hastily assembled fleet of buses and ambulances. Officials said the fog was too dense to permit evacuation by helicopter.
Gov. George Deukmejian canceled a tour of the quake-damaged San Francisco area and rushed to the crash site.
Amtrak said the train--Amtrak's San Joaquin Flyer, which runs between the Bay Area and Bakersfield--left Oakland as scheduled at 7:20 a.m., but was about 20 minutes late leaving Stockton, the first stop, because of the heavy passenger load.
The train was traveling at 70 m.p.h.--the permissible speed--when it slammed into the truck at 9:38 a.m. at a rural grade crossing about seven miles south of Stockton, Amtrak said.
The California Highway Patrol said initial reports indicated the truck was struck broadside after apparently failing to heed warning lights, but it was still too early to render a definitive opinion as to the precise cause of the accident.
Officials said the Santa Fe Railroad crossing, on a curve, is well marked, but visibility was cut to about 50 yards by the dense fog.
The impact overturned the train's two locomotives and derailed the first two of the train's five cars, but all the cars remained upright. One of the locomotives caught fire, casting an eerie glow over the crash scene as rescue workers labored to free the injured from the wreckage of the derailed passenger cars.
Dense tule fog is common in the San Joaquin Valley at this time of year, and the National Weather Service said visibility was cut to near zero in some areas of the valley this morning.
The fog caused a 69-vehicle accident near Tracy earlier in the morning.