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Amtrak's California Zephyr #5 Wendover, UT  

Amtrak's California Zephyr #5

Looking south from across the shallow salt pond, you can see Amtrak 143, and the baggage car in the foreground, and Amtrak 149 in the background. They wrecked on Sept. 13, 2001 about 5:30am after running into the side of an empty UP coal on the main. This occurred around milepost 814 of UP's Shafter Sub. No one was killed, but several sustained injuries. Received the following as an e-mail from Kim K, and have reposted it with permission.

Email Kim here

"Hi Brett,

Came across your photos and info while looking for follow-up information on the 9/13/01 California Zephyr crash.  I was on it and as you could probably tell from having been there and taken pictures, we were quite lucky to have gotten away from that wreck with no serious injuries, particularly with those propane tanks so close to the burning engine and cars.

It was quite a ride, I'll tell you!  I was in the front deluxe sleeper compartment of a car that was two behind #39025, I believe.  That car, I think, was actually the crew car and they were quite lucky to have gotten out and they are all to be commended, because as soon as they did, they organized themselves and got back to the passenger cars immediately to make sure we were all right and that we got out o.k.  Fortunately for me, I had not followed through on my plans to be up at 5 a.m. that morning so I could make the first breakfast call, because if I had, I would have been in my shower compartment when we hit and would have been slammed around pretty good.

We all evacuated over to that service road alongside the tracks and moved away from those propane tanks to await the emergency crews we knew would arrive at some point.  While waiting, I used my emergency flashlight (which I always carry, having been the son of a deputy fire chief!) to help a doctor who had been a passenger on the train check out those with cuts, scrapes, bruises and bumps, among whom were the engineer and fireman.  Needless to say, they were both banged up pretty well, but didn't seem to be seriously hurt, although to be sure, the doctor recommended that they both be airlifted back to Salt Lake City to be checked out properly.  I didn't have the heart to ask the engineer what had happened (because I had immediately suspected human error when it was apparent the weather and visibility were good, even if it was dark), only to ask him instead if he was sure everyone had gotten out of the engines and crew car, in case we needed to try and go back to search.  With the fire so near to those propane tanks, I was glad we didn't!.

While waiting for the emergency crews and transportation back in to Wendover to arrive, we were treated to what I can only describe as a surrealistically beautiful desert sunrise in the east, with the sun coming up over the mountains and a first pink, then red, then yellow sky reflected in that water you had to walk through to take the pictures.  At that hour of the day, it was just as smooth as glass and made and excellently mirrored the morning sky and surrounding mountains.  While behind us, engine 143, the baggage car and car #39025 continued to burn!  As I say, it was quite surreal.

After waiting about an hour and a half, huddled against the brisk morning air as best we could, buses arrived to take us into Wendover, where the local folks had quickly activated an emergency community response program.  We were well-treated upon our arrival and had help from the local community and casinos on the Nevada side of Wendover, as well as by the local Red Cross response team.  Under the circumstances, we couldn't have been luckier than to have derailed right outside of Wendover.  The folks there were wonderful.

Up to that point the trip had been a wonderful 50th birthday present to myself and I neither regret it, nor am I afraid to take another long train ride.  Matter of fact, I am eyeing the Coast Starlight from L.A. to Seattle and am thinking of booking it soon in hopes of beating the possible cessation of service that Amtrak is hinting of.

Thank you for the pictures.  I hope you don't mind if I printed off copies to include in my scrapbook."  Kim K.

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