DERAILMENT: Mudslide triggers Bay Area commuter train derailment

Repost from SFGate

14 hurt as commuter train derails — no ACE service Tuesday

Sheriff: “A miracle nobody was killed.”
By Jill Tucker, Jenna Lyons, and Michael Cabanatuan Updated 7:18 am, Tuesday, March 8, 2016
An ACE commuter train rests partially submerged in a creek following a derailment on Monday, March 7, 2016, in Sunol, Calif. Photo: NOAH BERGER / SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
An ACE commuter train rests partially submerged in a creek following a derailment on Monday, March 7, 2016, in Sunol, Calif. Photo: NOAH BERGER / SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

An Altamont Corridor Express train full of Silicon Valley commuters derailed Monday evening northeast of Fremont, injuring 14 passengers — four seriously — as the first car apparently slammed into a tree that had fallen across the tracks before plunging into a rain-swollen creek in rural Niles Canyon, authorities said.

The front car of the ACE commuter train was half submerged in the fast-running Alameda Creek, its lights still on, as passengers were evacuated. The second car also derailed but remained upright, officials said.

Emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene just before 7:30 p.m., and early reports indicated the eastbound train hit a downed tree, according to Capt. Joe Medina of the Alameda County Fire Department.

Of those transported to hospitals, four passengers suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries and five suffered minor injuries, according to fire officials. There were cases of head trauma and back pain, among other complaints. About 12 people were in the first car that derailed into the creek, officials said.

Emergency crews broke windows to evacuate some of the passengers from the first car as others scrambled up the south bank of the creek to escape the 55-degree water. There was chaos and confusion as the first rescuers arrived, with screaming heard over police radios, said Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly

“We’re very lucky,” Kelly said. “It’s absolutely a miracle that nobody was killed.”

The No. 10 train, which runs from San Jose to Stockton, was due to arrive in Pleasanton at 7:30 p.m.

Passenger Tanner McKenzie was in the second car, which derailed and then slid for what seemed a long time through the mud, he said. People were screaming.

“There was an impact, the power went out,” he said. “I was just sure at any moment we were going to flip over.”

All passengers were evacuated by 8:30 p.m. and were assessed by emergency responders.

A 52-year-old woman was transported to Eden Medical Center, where she was in stable condition, hospital officials said. Others were taken to Washington Hospital in Fremont.

The agency said no trains would run Tuesday as they clear the tracks and investigate the crash.

John Wong, 49, of Pleasanton was in the last car of the train, traveling home from his work as an engineer at a semiconductor company in Sunnyvale, when the train derailed.

“There were a couple of huge jerks and then the train stopped,” he said by phone.

He and the other passengers, stunned by the jolt, waited for about a half hour before someone told them that the train had derailed and evacuated the car. He joined about 200 other passengers standing on Highway 84 as emergency vehicles whizzed back and forth.

“We were the last car, so we didn’t really see the event, but the first car landed in the creek. We saw several ambulances leaving the scene.”

“They gave us blankets, but no beer, no food,” said Wong as he stood out on the roadway at 10 p.m. “I wouldn’t mind getting a shot of whiskey, that’s for sure.”

At least two of the cars that remained on the tracks were unstable, according to emergency crews.

There were an estimated 214 people on the train, according to initial reports. Uninjured passengers were transported to the Alameda County Fairgrounds on buses.

Passengers, many in tears and wrapped in blankets, embraced relatives who had been waiting up to two hours.

One, who only gave his first name, George, said he was among the passengers in the top seats of the first car. At impact, he frantically tried to hang on to anything as the car tilted off the tracks and nose dived into the bank.

“I just prayed that it was over soon,” he said, adding that passengers stepped over shattered glass to escape. “We climbed our way out.”

Niles Canyon Road was closed to traffic due to the incident, and the closure was expected to last for at least two days, Kelly said.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were en route to the accident.

The train’s engine was in the last car pushing, rather than pulling it, officials said. It was unclear whether ACE staffers were in the front car.

Heavy rain was reported in the San Jose region at the time of the crash. The previous train, the No. 8, traveled along the same track about an hour before the crash.