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."
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.