‘Accidents Happen': Passengers Ride ACE Train For First Time Since Derailment

Altamont Corridor Expressway was back in service on Wednesday after a day off the tracks following the derailment in Sunol, California, that sent a train plunging down a ravine, injuring nine passengers.

Ridership, however, was slightly lower than an average day, and travel times were delayed by roughly five to 10 minutes, officials said.

The 5:30 a.m. train was about half full of normal occupancy, according to frequent rider Skip Baydo. The car seemed pretty empty, he told NBC Bay Area. Still, he and the other riders didn’t seem too afraid that their train would derail, as happened Monday evening as a result of a mudslide, according to authorities.

"Accidents happen," Baydo said simply.

ACE spokesman Steve Walker said the car that derailed will be taken offline permanently after being damaged in the crash – something that’s now happened only twice in a decade to the ACE lines, which run between Stockton to San Jose. The train was traveling at 35 mph in a 40 mph speed zone, Walker said.

The train car will be studied at a facility in Stockton. Although originally slated to leave from Fremont Wednesday, its departure was delayed by a day. ACE officials say they wanted to give crews more time to make repairs and ensure the car is strong enough to make the trip. 

Union Pacific officials said Tuesday that a mudslide was the most likely cause of the accident, which caused a tree to fall across on the tracks and the train to veer off its path and into Alameda Creek.

An engineer was on scene in Sunol Wednesday, trying to determine what caused the mudslide and ascertain if there is a risk it could happen again. However, spokesman Francisco Castillo said it's unlikely the company will install mudslide sensors and special fencing, since this was the first such event in at least 20 years.

ACE owns the train, but not the tracks, and officials Wednesday said they welcome any technology to make the route safer.

"I think it would be a great benefit anywhere along the tracks, where there could be a potential slide," Walker said. "We would work with Union Pacific on that. Safety is our top priority, anything we can implement that would enhance security and safety would be great."

Passengers described the derailment as a scene straight out of the 1993 film, "The Fugitive," with Harrison Ford.

As of Tuesday night, two passengers were still in the hospital; a woman at Eden Medical Center and a man at Washington Hospital, officials said.

When the train travels through the area of Niles Canyon Boulevard, where the derailment occurred, the engineer will take it very slowly, about 5 to 10 mph, Walker said. A Union Pacific rail inspection pickup truck will also ride on the tracks at a railway crossing in Sunol and ride about a mile ahead of the ACE trains Wednesday as a safety precaution, Walker said. In addition, Union Pacific workers are resuming work at the derailment site on Wednesday to make sure everything is in working order, Walker added.

The car that was partially derailed will be evaluated and returned to service likely within the next month, Walker said. The main locomotive and the three remaining cars will likely be back in service next week. Those cars are now being stored in Fremont, Walker said, and will eventually be headed back to Stockton.

Customers who left their belongings on the train when it derailed can pick them up at ACE headquarters in Stockton at 949 E. Channel Street. They are open Monday through Friday from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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