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A leisurely train ride when...


There are some things in life we dread more than others. Some examples are automobile accidents, home fires, medical emergencies and similar, sometimes life-altering, happenings.

What about train wrecks? They are downright scary. I know.

My wife and I were carefree passengers on the fantastic Amtrak Coast Starlight at 2 a.m. on December 7, 2000 in the Siskiyou Mountains when we crashed into some "rolling stock" including two boxcars, a lumber car and an empty tanker that were standing still on the main line track, as we came around a curve at 50 mph.

Some newspaper reports erroneously stated that the Coast Starlight had "sideswiped" cars parked on the siding. That's not correct, at least according to one of two engineers with whom I spoke.

She said we hit the cars as they were standing idle on the main line. She added that it was a good thing we weren't traveling at a higher speed or the damage and injuries would have been much greater.

I felt three distinct, separate heavy jolts that caused both locomotives and the two cars immediately behind them (baggage car and crew quarters) to derail and finally were laid on their sides or otherwise came to rest heavily damaged far away from the rails.

The car in which we were enjoying a middle of the night snooze was the first one (immediately behind the crew unit) to remain on the rails although it was jostled around violently and gave us the feeling that it was about to topple over on this high mountain right of way.

We were knocked around some but were uninjured.

Some passengers were taken to local hospitals in the Mount Shasta area with minor injuries. One of the engineers was more severely injured but recovered soon after.

I managed to acquire some scars on my legs when, against instructions from train attendants, I disembarked with my camera and took some photos in the darkness while stumbling into some sharp scraps of metal, axles and wheels which were strewn all over the place.

The most difficult problem was that it was a cold night with no power or heat and no operating toilets (upset people seem to need restroom facilities more than normal) for several hours waiting for buses to arrive on what amounted to a logging road to transport us to Redding where we were treated very well by the Red Cross volunteers who had arranged coffee, donuts and other comforts while we were waiting for the northbound train to get turned around (it couldn't continue northbound due to the blocked rails we had recently occupied) at some distant roundtable facility and transport us to our various southern destinations.

It was an experience neither of us will soon forget and it's now almost thirteen years ago.


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