An Amtrak train carrying 173 people collided with a vehicle-transport truck at Canal Avenue and Memorial Boulevard just after 7 p.m. Friday. The impact crushed some of the eight cars being transported and caused the front of the train to leave the tracks.
Passengers aboard the Silver Star Train 92 described hearing a crash, feeling a jolt, and being jerked backward. Some suffered minor injuries, including eight who were transported to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, but first responders said there were no fatalities.
“It’s very fortunate that it ended the way it did when you’re talking about a passenger train, and that there weren’t more serious injuries or fatalities,” Assistant Chief Steven Pacheco of the Lakeland Police Department said.
Pacheco said initial reports suggest the truck was stopped on the tracks when it was hit by the train.
However, the driver of the vehicle transporter said in Spanish that the red-and-white crossbars did not go down at the intersection and that he was unaware that a train was heading his way when he crossed Canal going north toward Memorial Boulevard. His cab had cleared the track before the eastbound train hit the trailer. He told a reporter his back and shoulder hurt.
A Saturday news release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the lead agency investigating the cause of the crash, said the truck became stuck on the tracks and gives this account:
As the train was approaching Canal Avenue North at about 78 mph, the engineer, Ronald Webb of Jacksonville, saw the truck and began blowing the train’s horn.Polk County Sheriff’s Office
The crossing arms and lights activated, and began to impact the truck’s trailer and the truck driver, Walberto Carrazana Bermudez of Homestead, and his passenger, Jose Luis Lahera Vidal of Hialeah, both jumped out of the truck.
Upon impact, the train (consisting of two engines and eight cars) continued traveling east for another 200 yards before coming to a stop.
Bermudez was given a citation for insufficient clearance at a railroad crossing, the Sheriff’s Office said.
At a news conference several hours after the crash, Battalion Chief Jason Busby of the Lakeland Fire Department said the collision caused diesel fuel to leak from the train’s engine.
“We had approximately 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel in the front engine that made the initial contact with the semi,” Busby said. The fuel was in two separate 800-gallon tanks, one of which began leaking. “We’re unsure at this time how much fuel actually leaked out.”
A hazardous materials team from the Polk County Fire Department was on the scene and handling the containment and cleanup. A CSX response team (CSX controls and maintains the tracks) and representatives from the state Division of Emergency Management and Department of Health were also on the scene.
Assistant Fire Chief Mike Williams said there was no concern at this point about fuel contaminating any waterways, but there will be environmental testing around the tracks.
“There very well could be some dig out of that material to replace it with clean material,” Williams said.
The train originated in Miami and was bound for New York. It had stopped in Tampa, prior to the crash. All of the passengers were taken off the train and escorted down a gravel embankment by law enforcement officers.
“They were taking people off and going through the passengers, checking each one,” Polk County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Brian Bruchey said. “It’s chaos, but it’s controlled chaos.
Many said the collision left them shaken.
“There was a bump and (the train) jerked back,” passenger Tim Sawyer, 56, of Sebring, said. He heard a sound he described as a large crash. “There was smoke everywhere.”
He was traveling with his mother, 77-year-old Janice Sawyer of Sebring, who had a Band-Aid on her arm after it hit the window. They were traveling to Orlando to visit grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A family with three young children said one child had a bloody nose. Another had a bruised arm.
The passengers gathered in the roadway and grassy shoulder with their luggage. An assortment of buses including yellow Polk County Schools buses began arriving at the scene at 8:50 p.m. to pick them up.
Pacheco said the passengers were taken to the RP Funding Center.
“They’re going to rest up there for a while and hopefully be provided with water and some refreshments until arrangements can be made to take them back to Tampa,” Pacheco said. From there, Amtrak will help the passengers with transportation to their final destinations.
Memorial Boulevard was closed for about 10 hours.
“There are multiple cars stuck underneath the train. The whole semi truck is demolished and in that area,” Pacheco said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort to clear those vehicles and to get the train where it’s able to actually move on the tracks again. So we may be out here all evening until tomorrow.”
Damages to the train, tracks and CSX property combined with costs of cleanup and losses due to track downtime are estimated at $6 million to $10 million, the Sheriff’s Office said.
LkldNow staff writer Kimberly C. Moore contributed to this report.
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