(Reuters) - An Amtrak passenger train derailed in rural southwestern Kansas early on Monday injuring 32 people, possibly because of a misalignment in an otherwise straight track, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
Seven coaches from Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Train 4, bound from Los Angeles to Chicago, derailed about 125 miles (200 km) west of Wichita shortly after midnight, Amtrak said in a statement. There were 131 passengers and 14 crew aboard.
Thirty-two passengers were taken to hospitals in Dodge City and Garden City, and 29 had been released by midmorning, Amtrak said.
National Transportation Safety Board Member Earl Weener told reporters that all preliminary information indicated the train’s engineer acted properly and the track may have been misaligned.
“The engineer, apparently from what we understand, was quite vigilant: noticed that there was something wrong with the tracks; put the train into emergency braking early in that process; and that was probably responsible for the train derailment not being any worse than it was,” Weener said.
Weener said the train was likely traveling near the posted speed limit of 60 mph (97 kph). He said the track had been inspected as recently as last Thursday, as per protocol.
Passengers told local CBS television affiliate KWCH they heard a loud cracking noise just before the accident.
“The train just lifted up off the ground and it set back down on the track and it does it again. It lifts back up and it slams me into the door” of a toilet, an unidentified male passenger told the station.
A second passenger said people were crying for help and looking for companions in the darkness. KWCH showed images of five cars laying on their sides in the middle of prairie, and two others still upright but off the rails.
Amtrak said the train had two locomotives and nine cars, and the accident occurred on track owned by BNSF Railway Co, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N).
Amtrak said its Southwest Chief Train 3, traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles, would detour around the crash scene on Monday, traveling from Newton, Kansas, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Uninjured passengers were taken to a recreation center before being provided alternate transportation.
In one of Amtrak’s deadliest recent accidents, eight people were killed and 43 hurt last May when a New York-bound train derailed in Philadelphia. The train entered a curve at more than twice the recommended speed, investigators found.
Reporting by Chris Michaud in New York, Ben Klayman in Detroit, and Ian Simpson and David Morgan in Washington; Editing by Ralph Boulton, Andrea Ricci, Jonathan Oatis, Steve Orlofsky and Diane Craft