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Emergency services from three states respond to train derailment

Friday, August 26, 2011

(Photo)
Julien Caparelli of Lawrence, New York, plays softly on his guitar while his dad, Gary, tries to make travel connections back east, after the eastbound Amtrak train they and 173 other passengers were traveling on derailed early Friday morning in an accident at the "Doane elevator" location on a graveled country road 4 1/2-5 miles southwest of Benkelman. Dundy County Stratton Public Schools buses ferried uninjured passengers and crew members from the scene to the high school in Benkelman, while the injured were transported by ambulances to hospitals in Benkelman and Imperial in Nebraska and Wray in Colorado. Friday was Gary Caparelli's 60th birthday. "It'll be a memorable one," he chuckled. Photo by Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Daily Gazette
BENKELMAN -- The Benkelman, Nebraska, fire chief answers every emergency call with the prayer, please let there be no fatalities.

While there were injuries and massive damages to metal and iron, there were no fatalities in the derailment accident of the eastbound Amtrak No. 6 California Zephyr at 7:51 a.m. MT Friday near what locals know as "the Doane elevator" on a country road about five miles southwest of Benkelman.

"There were no fatalities," Relgene Zimbelman, situation commander and spokesperson emphasized to reporters and photographers who converged from all across Nebraska and from the Denver area of Colorado on the high school in Benkelman, where uninjured passengers and Amtrak crew members were ferried after the accident. "That's our goal," Zimbelman said. "There were 192 people involved, and there were no fatalities. That is fantastic. That's our goal."

(Photo)
Grant Strunk/McCook Daily Gazette Emergency workers and vehicles prepare for service.
At about 1 p.m. MT, Zimbelman updated reporters on the 21 injured passengers and crew members. Zimbelman released no names, but gave these reports:

Twelve injured taken to Dundy County Hospital in Benkelman, where one had been treated and released;

Five were taken to Chase County Community Hospital in Imperial, where two were treated and released; and,

Four treated and released at the Wray Community District Hospital in Wray, Colorado.

"No one was injured critically," Zimbelman said.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by Amtrak officials, Dundy County Sheriff Justin Nichols told reporters.

Zimbelman did not have words to explain and praise the response of emergency personnel and community members to the accident. "I can't praise emergency responders, law enforcement and citizens enough," Zimbelman said. "Help came from as far as Yuma in Colorado, McCook and Indianola to the east, from Imperial, Wauneta, Palisade, Hayes Center, and from Bird City and McDonald and St. Francis in Kansas. The response to help was fantastic. I can't thank all the responders and citizens enough. We're all just overwhelmed." Also responding to the scene was Red Willow Western Rural Fire Department of McCook.


Nine cars derailed in the accident, which involved a crane that was dismantling the Doane elevator. Off the tracks after the accident were two locomotives, a baggage car, crew members' dorm car, a sleeper car, a lounge car and three coaches. The last three cars did not derail, Zimbelman said.

It's estimated that 300 to 400 yards of track were torn up.

Amtrak officials spent the remainder of the morning and into the early afternoon making arrangements for buses to take passengers on to Chicago. Several passengers left before buses arrived, two couples summoning taxis from McCook.


This was the second accident for the No. 6 Zephyr since leaving Emeryville, California, Wednesday bound for Chicago.

Passenger Gary Caparelli said that just outside Reno, Nevada, Thursday morning, an SUV that had apparently tried to cross the tracks between crossings high-centered on the tracks. "It was teetering on the tracks, around a blind corner, when the train hit it," Caparelli said. "There was nobody in the SUV. There was an orange flame and explosion, and then we smelled burned rubber. The SUV was cut in half."

Caparelli said the train did not derail, but the accident delayed the train about two hours.

Caparelli said he was impressed with the reactions of the Amtrak engineer(s) in both accidents. Neither was a massive, slamming impact, he said. "The engineer did the best he could (in the Reno accident). There was no derailment," Caparelli said.

Caparelli repeated the same praise for the engineer in the Doane accident. "I was in the dining car. It was quite sudden ... but a series of jabs and stoppings. The engineer didn't slam the train. It was a controlled slow-down," Caparelli said.


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I was the Conductor of Amtrak Train #6 that derailed near Benkelman last Friday. I want to agree whole heartedly with Situation Commander Zimbelman regarding the community response to our incident. Our needs in this event would have overwhelmed most communities of Benkelman's size. Quite the opposite was the case last Friday. Every action, communication and service was delivered without hesitation, with impressive skill, and with selfless charity. There more than enough responders of every occupation. These people were well trained, well equipped, and well lead. Once at the High School we received hospitality that went above and beyond anyone's expectations. From the moment I made the first call to the 911 dispatcher to when the last Amtrak crew members left for home, every detail was handled with the kind of concern one would only expect from close friends or family members. Thanks is too small a word to express my gratitude.

Brad Swartzwelter

Amtrak Conductor

-- Posted by amtkcndr on Mon, Aug 29, 2011, at 10:35 PM

I was also on this train one year ago. Its funny that I found this article one year later.

To Brad Swartzwelter....I just want to say thank you for your leadership and calm that day. In the days after I wrote a few emails to the brass of Amtrak praising your crew.... and your actions in particular.

If you are interested I have several pictures of that day...with you included of course. If interested please email CJDunn50@aol.com.

Chris

-- Posted by Coach Dunn on Tue, Sep 4, 2012, at 8:47 PM


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