Transportation

Feds probe why Capitol Corridor train shook violently; passengers feared it would topple

New ticket counters open in Sacramento Amtrak station

The new ticket counters are located in a wing of the building that has been reopened to the public as part of a renovation of the historic transportation hub.
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The new ticket counters are located in a wing of the building that has been reopened to the public as part of a renovation of the historic transportation hub.

The Federal Railroad Administration has launched an investigation into why a Capitol Corridor train suddenly lurched violently back and forth, injuring several passengers, on tracks near Davis on Wednesday morning.

The incident, which took place a little after 7 a.m, occurred just west of the Yolo Causeway. Several passengers reported the train tilted so much they thought it would topple. One said the incident occurred when the train switched tracks without warning at traveling speed.

One passenger was treated for a broken thumb and headaches. Another reported neck injuries.

“FRA is aware of the Capitol Corridor incident involving the Amtrak train,” spokeswoman Desiree French said in an email to The Bee on Thursday afternoon. “We have sent out inspectors to review the circumstances of the incident. Amtrak will also be required to submit a report.”

Passenger Erin Lehane said she was in the cafe car, where passengers were knocked down when the train shuddered, jerked and rocked on the tracks. Paramedics came onto the train in Martinez and escorted the women off, she said.

Another passenger, Matt Williams of Sacramento, said he was looking out the window and saw that the train appeared to lurch at a switch from one track to the adjacent track.

“It was extremely sudden,” he said. “It listed one way. At the end of the switch, we swung back the other way. It oscillated back and forth. We thought it derailed. We thought the car was going to go all the way over.”

Williams said he saw conductor do a visual exterior inspection of the train at the Davis station, but the train continued to Martinez before it was taken out of service.

Capitol Corridor officials put out an alert at 8 a.m. that a track issue between Davis and Sacramento was causing systemwide delays. The track reopened just after 9 a.m., but residual train delays reportedly continued throughout the morning.

Officials for Union Pacific, which owns the tracks, said track inspectors found no rail damage at the site. Spokesman Justin Jacobs said UP is replacing rail ties in that area as part of annual infrastructure projects.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said the locomotive and train cars were not damaged.

Union Pacific and Capitol Corridor companies are among the freight and passenger lines covered by federal orders to install a new computer-controlled safety system, called Positive Train Control, by 2018. The system uses track sensors, communications towers and in-train computer systems to help prevent train-to-train collisions and derailments caused by speeding, as well as to keep trains on the correct tracks.

Federal officials made the system mandatory after a Metrolink commuter train crashed in 2008 into a Union Pacific train in the Southern California community of Chatsworth, killing 25 passengers. The Metrolink train ran through a red light. Federal officials said they believed the conductor was distracted by his cellphone.

The federal update two weeks ago showed uneven progress nationally among railroads installing the new systems. The improvements have been made on only 23 percent of passenger rail lines and 12 percent of freight lines, according to federal data.

The latest progress report shows that Union Pacific has finished installing PTC components in only a handful of trains, and has finished installing PTC components on 22 percent of its track segments. The freight line, which operates in the Western states, has done better on trackside towers, installing system components in 80 percent of them.

Amtrak, which runs long-distance passenger trains through Sacramento, as well as the Capitol Corridor trains, has installed the system on 31 percent of its locomotives, according to the federal report.

The federal government initially ordered railroads to have the safety system up and running by 2015, but extended that deadline to 2018, lobbied by railroads that said the system is complicated and expensive to install.

The new ticket counters are located in a wing of the building that has been reopened to the public as part of a renovation of the historic transportation hub.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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