Union Pacific: Mudslide Caused Altamont Corridor Express Train to Derail in Sunol | NBC Bay Area
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Union Pacific: Mudslide Caused Altamont Corridor Express Train to Derail in Sunol

Until Monday night, ACE had only had one derailment in the last 10 years.

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    A mudslide was most likely the cause of a commuter train derailment in Sunol, California, that injured nine people on board, sending one train car into a nearby creek, a Union Pacific spokesman said early Tuesday morning. Pete Suratos, Marianne Favro and Jeff Ranieri report. (Published Tuesday, March 8, 2016)

    A mudslide was the cause of a commuter train derailment in Sunol, California, that injured nine people on board, sending one train car into a nearby creek, a Union Pacific spokesman said Tuesday.

    All Altamont Corridor Express trains were canceled on Tuesday traveling from San Jose in Silicon Valley to Stockton in the Central Valley because of the derailment that a sheriff's spokesman described as a scene out of the 1993 Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive. The train — the last one of the night — was en route from Fremont to Pleasanton, California.

    Officials said ACE trains will resume normal scheduled service on Wednesday morning.

    Union Pacific spokesman Francisco J. Castillo said investigators believe the mudslide swept a tree onto the tracks and caused the leading car of the ACE train No. 10 to flip on its side Monday evening during heavy rains. He said he hoped the train would be removed and the tracks would be fixed by 4 p.m. Early Tuesday, NBC Bay Area's chopper flew overhead, showing crews in orange vests inspecting the damage, which Castillo said was pretty minor.

    ACE spokesman Steve Walker said the train was traveling at 35 mph in a 40 mph speed zone.

    Scenes From Train Derailment in Sunol, CaliforniaScenes From Train Derailment in Sunol, California

    Officials originally said that 14, then nine passengers were hurt, with four suffering major injuries and five suffering minor injuries after the train derailed near 5500 Niles Canyon Road between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m.

    But on Tuesday night, officials said there were still two passengers hospitalized: a woman at Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and a man at Washington Hospital in Fremont.

    ACE trains have a good track record.

    Until Monday night, the agency had only had one derailment in the last ten years - in 2008, according to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration. Overall, train derailments and train accidents in the United States have been on the decline, from 2006 to 2015, according to FRA data. Derailments have dropped by 43 percent, from 666 to 377 over that same time frame, and accidents dropped 38 percent, from 2,998 to 1,856.

    Some passengers described finding themselves in the water in the dark and having to save each other from the frightening scene. The train fell about 50 feet into the Alameda Creek, swollen with winter rains.

    The fact that all the 214 passengers on the train had survived was "a minor miracle," Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. JD Nelson said, who also compared the scene to the film, The Fugitive, where a bus rolls down a ravine to avoid an oncoming train.

    Late Monday night, passengers had speculated about the mudslide being to blame.

    "There were two people hurt, pretty badly," commuter Rad Akhter said. "One was just under the mudslide so we were trying to dig her out while the train was hanging so it was a pretty crazy experience."

    Passengers told NBC Bay Area that they were terrified to find themselves in the water, forced to save fellow passengers and trek to safety through complete darkness.  

    "We knew we were in a pretty remote area so we knew we had some hiking to do along the train tracks," Kathy Heilmann said. "I'm grateful that it wasn't worse."

    Crews had to fight the creek's fast-moving currents to pull riders from the partially submerged rail car, Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Ray Kelly said. 

    Images posted on Twitter by the Alameda County Fire Department show the train car on its side and half-submerged in water.

    "It was dark, wet, it was raining. It was very chaotic,'' Kelly said. "This is an absolute miracle that no one was killed, no passengers or first responders.''

    The second car behind it also derailed, but managed to stay upright while the three cars behind them, including the locomotive, stayed on the tracks.

    Multiple agencies, including the Fremont Police Department and Alameda County Fire Department responded to the scene. Police shut down Niles Canyon Road and expect it to remain closed until further notice.

    Niles Canyon Road SR84 was closed Tuesday morning between Palomares Road and Main Street. The California Highway Patrol suggested that drivers traveling eastbound on Vallecitos Road before it becomes Niles Canyon  should take Interstate Highway 680 to 238 to get around the closed stretch of SR84.

    NBC Bay Area's Ian Cull, Jean Elle, Tim Bollinger, Rhea Mahbubani and the Associated Press contributed to this report.