A government official said an Amtrak engineer noticed a significant bend in a rail ahead and hit the emergency brake before a passenger train derailed in southwest Kansas early Monday, sending nearly three dozen people to the hospital.
Southwest Chief Train 4 was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago when eight cars derailed just after midnight about 20 miles west of Dodge City, Amtrak said in a statement. Kansas Highway Patrol communication specialist Patricia Munford said five cars flipped onto their sides.
A U.S. official who was briefed on the investigation said the train appeared to have been traveling at about 75 mph when the engineer pulled the emergency brake. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the federal probe and talked with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The derailment happened along a straight stretch of track surrounded by flat farmland.
Amtrak didn't say how fast the train was traveling when it derailed, and it didn't immediately respond to calls seeking further details. It was foggy in the area at the time, but it wasn't immediately known if that played any role.
According to Amtrak, 32 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in Dodge City and Garden City. Twenty-nine have been discharged.
Gray County clerk and public information officer Ashley Rogers said 21 patients were taken to Western Plains Medical Complex and nine were treated at St. Catherine's Hospital. Two were in critical condition, but their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening, Rogers said.
Passenger Kelsey Wilson, 21, said was awoken when she felt the ride "getting really bumpy" and the train started to shake. Wilson, who was returning to Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, after spending spring break at home in Pueblo, Colorado, said her car disconnected from the one in front and that she hit her head as it overturned.
Wilson said she escaped through the top of the flipped car, then slid down the side before she "passed out." She was taken to a hospital and released with a neck brace.
Daniel Aiken, 21, of Lenexa, Kansas, who was traveling with Wilson, said he heard screaming as he climbed out of their overturned car. He stopped to smell a fluid that was flowing through the car, fearful that it was fuel, but was reassured when it turned out to be water.
"Once people realized the train wasn't going to blow up," he said, "they calmed down."
Buses and ambulances took uninjured passengers to a community building in the small town of Cimarron to wait while Amtrak made arrangements to take them to their destinations, according to Rogers.
Amtrak said the derailed train, which consisted of two locomotives and 10 cars, had 131 passengers and 14 crew members on board. Railroad officials said they are investigating alongside BNSF Railway, which owns and maintains the track, and cooperating with a separate National Transportation Safety Board investigation.
Friends and family members of passengers on board the derailed train can call Amtrak's Emergency Hotline at 800-523-9101 for more information.