Williston, VT Train Wreck, July 1984
WORST AMTRAK CRASH BLAMED ON RAILBED WASHOUT.
Montpelier, Vt. (AP) -- A wall of flood water 18 feet high probably caused a railbed washout that derailed a train and left five people dead and nearly 140 injured in the worst Amtrak accident in 13 years, safety officials say.
The tracks had been inspected the day before the Saturday morning wreck in Williston, according to local railroad officials, but a federal safety spokesman said tremendous pressure built up during overnight flooding had washed out a culvert underlying the track. The Amtrak Montrealer, carrying 278 people, toppled off the weakened tracks, tumbling cars into a ravine.
"The preliminary indication is that the high water mark (during a Friday night storm) was 18 feet .. within four feet of the track," said Ira Furman a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. "The hydraulic pressure was tremendous."
He said Sunday "it concerns us" that railroad officials had not ordered a special inspection of the track in light of the flash flooding.
However, the board's vice chairman, Patricia Goldman, said at a news conference Sunday in Burlington that she was told by railroad officials that the tracks had been checked the day before the crash and the 2-by-4 culvert 22 feet below the tracks had been inspected last month.
This morning about 48 hours after the accident, the northbound Montrealer picked its way through the wreck site on rebuilt track. Saturday's train was moving at 59 mph, while today's crept at 5 mph, with passengers peeking through windows at the wreckage.
Passengers and federal officials credited an "extraordinary" rescue effort by hundreds of volunteers with preventing the loss of even more lives after the derailment.
The 18 hours of digging, lifting, cutting, sweating and waiting was "a textbook example of how it should be done," said Donald Hamlin, who helped direct the efforts that followed the worst Amtrak accident in 13 years.
"It was trial under fire for all of us," said Hamlin, 52, a founder of the Essex Rescue Squad.
Syracuse Herald Journal New York 1984-07-09