Salem, IL Passenger Train Derails, June 1971
LOCKED ENGINE WHEEL BLAMED FOR DERAILMENT THAT KILLED 11.
94 MORE HURT IN I. C. CRASH.
Salem, Ill. (AP) -- A locked wheel that may have been caused by an electrical failure was blamed today for the flaming derailment Thursday of the City of New Orleans passenger liner. Eleven persons died and 94 others were injured in the spectacular accident.
The 14-car streamliner was being pulled by four locomotives at better than 90 miles an hour when it left the track two miles north os Salem. There were 224 persons aboard the train, including 18 crewmen.
Jim Law superintendent of the railroad's Illinois division, said a rear wheel on the lead engine started sliding 1 1/2 miles north of the accident scene but the train's engineer never knew it.
The derailment occurred, Law said, when the wheel, misshapen by the friction of sliding, struck a crossing mechanism which railroaders call a
"If there hadn't been a crossover there, the defect might have been detected as the train rounded a bend further on," Law said. "We suspect it was an electrical malfunction in the traction works."
The crash was the first major accident under the new national Amtrak system, under which the Illinois Central operates.
Investigators from the National Rail Safety Board, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Illinois Commerce Commission were probing the wreckage today.
Alan S. Boyd, IC president, flew from Chicago and toured the wreckage for two hours. He said the crossover switch was not opened and said the track was "in first class condition."
The train departed Chicago at 8 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 1:30 a.m. today. The accident occurred about 12:20 p.m. near Tonti, a whistle stop 240 miles south of Chicago and 96 miles east of St. Louis.
Witnesses said 1,200 feet of track were twisted and hurled by the crash. Ambulances and fire equipment sped from nearby communities to fight the killing flames and rescue victims mangled by the rails.
"God, it was horrible," one survivor said. "I saw a woman pinned under the rails and she had to be cut free. She later died."
Jim Hunter, 23, another resident, said, "The cars were scattered like spaghetti."
Passengers were slammed through the plate glass windows of the coaches. Rescue squads used acetylene torches to cut rails pinning victims.
The injured were taken to hospitals in Salem, Centralia, Mount Vernon and St. Louis.
The Salem High School was used as a refuge for survivors who tried to find their families or traveling companions. The armory was converted to a temporary morgue.
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