For the second time in just under a year, an Amtrak passenger train has collided with a truck in our area. It happened around 7:30am near Hinesville in Liberty County, close to the intersection of Highways 84 and 196 East. A Georgia State Patrol spokesman says the train collided with a six-wheeled truck carrying lumber, and the truck driver was killed instantly. More than 30 others of the train's 150 passengers and 14 crew were injured in the accident, including the train's engineer.
WTOC spoke with a representative from CSX Railroad, which owns the track the accident occurred on. He told us that, as they remove cars and debris, they will also begin making repairs to the track. At the same time, they're trying to find what is essentially the train's black box inside the engine room. That should carry all types of information, such as how fast the train was going, whether the engineer sounded the horn to try to warn the truck driver, and they should be able to determine at what point the brakes were applied.
We have learned that the speed limit for trains on this stretch of track is 79 miles per hour.
Crews are now trying to clean up what is a very tragic mess. The truck was hit at a paved intersection and pushed several yards as it derailed the train. The cars are on either side of the tracks, but did not turn over. Neighbors around the area said the sound was unmistakable.
"Two bangs or something, then two explosions," was how witness Dorothy Wedincamp described it. "When I got to the window, I saw the fire."
Fire crews were at the seen almost immediately to put the fire out. They are working now to find out exactly what happened and why. They're trying to clear the debris and get the train tracks back together.
Injured passengers were taken to area hospitals. Those not injured were taken to the Shuman Recreation Center in Hinesville. Many of them were walking around outside the building this afternoon, evidently doing well physically, though shaken up. Many of them say the crash woke them up out of their sleep.
"It kept rolling," said passenger Iona Lock of Detroit, "and then it twisted us to the right, slung us to the left, twisted us back to the right, and we ended up to the left, and the car tilted. We knew something had gone wrong."
They say they all came together as a family, and just knew it was a miracle after they got off the train and saw the wreckage. They say everyone worked together quickly to get them to their destinations, and are just thankful to be alive. They're waiting on their luggage this afternoon, and they'll be taken on from Hinesville aboard buses.
The wreck is affecting other trains as well. The Amtrak station in Savannah is the final stop now for southbound trains, where passengers are being unloaded and bussed to their final destinations, as no Amtrak trains will be going south of Savannah for the rest of the day. The tracks are closed all the way to Jacksonville.
Passengers say they're happy to be accommodated and feel safe despite today's accident.
"When we were coming up, we were about two hours late," said Robert Bloom of Boca Raton, Florida, whose train arrived in Savannah at 10:40am this morning. "And they attributed it to the expansion of the rails in the heat. So they were observing the speed limit. So, as much as you want to talk about Amtrak, they appeared to be very concerned about safety."
There will also be no trains traveling north to Savannah today. They will all be stopping in Jacksonville.