This time of year the Ozarks are a popular destination for tourists and sightseers as the foliage begins to show the first tinges of fall color. A popular attraction this time of year is the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad’s round-trip excursions. On these excursions, passengers can take a day trip from Springdale to historic downtown Van Buren by way of beautifully restored, antique train cars. Also offered is an excursion from Van Buren to Winslow and back where riders are treated to the natural beauty of “The Natural State” as the train winds through the Boston Mountain range of the Ozarks. During the winter months, patrons may also take the round trip from Fort Smith to Winslow. In short, the railroad offers something of a window back into the Golden Age of Rail.
But, even a train ride into an idyllic past can be shattered by the pressing realities of a severe accident. Unfortunately, on the morning of Thursday, October 16, 2014, there was a collision between a backup engine and passenger train. The accident resulted in injuries to all of the passengers and crew members aboard the passenger train.
How did the Arkansas Missouri Railroad accident occur?
While a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team has been dispatched, the official investigation has yet to be completed. However from reports of eyewitness accounts, we can construct a general idea about what may have occurred to cause the train collision.
A passenger train with 44 people on board had set out for a fall sightseeing tour between Springdale and Van Buren. The passenger train traveled routinely and uneventfully until it reached about 20 miles south of Fayetteville where the strain either stalled or became stuck just before 10:30 AM. Early reports have indicated that wet leaves on the train tracks was the culprit for the stoppage.
Then, according to Railroad Chief of Police, Ron Sparks, the passenger train’s engineer radioed for a backup engine. The backup engine set out and while the exact reason is still unclear, but apparently a mistake or some miscommunication caused the backup engine’s engineer to be unaware of the location of the disabled train or mistaken in its own location. The backup engine then, reportedly, rammed head-on into the disabled passenger train.
In a report for News On 6, helicopter pilot Will Kavanaugh remarked from the air that, “Now you can see that the train is nestled there against the side of the mountain amid the twists and turns so as this train came up around this turn, it didn’t have enough stopping distance once it noticed that other train and it did collide.” Thus it appears that the positioning of the disabled train on the track may have concealed the rapidly decreasing distance between the two trains.
Statements to Channel 5 News KFSM by NTSB board member Mark Rosekind, seemed to support the theory that a miscommunication had occurred. He stated that the collision occurred in dark territory. Dark territory consists of areas where communication between trains is impaired or difficult. In light of this stretch of track’s dangers, the speed limit is 35 miles per an hour. It appears that both locomotives were equipped with a front-facing camera and an event recorder, so it will be interesting to see if the speed of the backup engine also increased the likelihood of this collision. The NTSB has scheduled a press conference at 4 PM Friday afternoon where they are likely to discuss their findings thus far.
What injuries have been reported?
Discussing the actions taken by first responders, Emergency Management Director John Luther explained the emergency response as, “We knew what we needed. We started to push those folks in as responders on foot, or in four-wheel drive units, to the scene. They were able to start working with the patients and helping them out to safety.”
The swift response may have saved lives. Thirteen people were sent to the Northwest Medical Center for treatment and observation and others arrived at the center by driving themselves. One of those thirteen, one remained at Northwest overnight in critical condition. Washington Regional Medical Center treated 14 people including 5 who required trauma care. One of those transported to Washington Regional was the train conductor who was airlifted after suffering severe back injuries. While the exact details of the injuries have yet to be released, video footage appears to show a number of the passengers with spinal injuries, neck injuries, or otherwise being immobilized or placed on to stretchers due to the trauma.
Although some reports indicate that up to 300 gallons of diesel fuel had spilled, others deny that a fuel spill occurred. The full extent of injuries, damage, and environmental impact is, however, sure to become clear over the forthcoming days. What we do know is that ten engines and four passenger cars were damaged in the crash. U.S. 71 was closed for several hours following the derailment.
Our attorneys have been fighting for injured Arkansans for 20+ years
We send our prayers and best wishes to all families who have been impacted by this terrible train accident. We hope that the injuries suffered turn out to be non-severe and that all make a full and speedy recovery.
However if your injuries are severe, Fayetteville AR personal injury lawyer Ken Kieklak has fought for Arkansans injured due to negligence, recklessness and other reasons for more than 20 years. Aside from personal injury cases, the Law Practice of Ken Kieklak also handles worker-focused matters like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims and Workers’ Compensation appeals in Arkansas. Ken Kieklak stands-up for honest, hard-working Arkansans by working to hold the responsible party liable for your injuries, lost wages and pain & suffering. To schedule your free and confidential initial consultation, contact us online or call (479) 316-0438.
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