Nine rail passengers were hospitalized, four with serious injuries, after a commuter train car derailed in the evening of March 7th, 2016 near San Francisco. Authorities from the Federal Railroad Administration and the Public Utilities Commission have cited a mudslide as the cause of the derailment, after slides swept a large tree onto the tracks sometime earlier in the day. After colliding with the tree, the lead car of the ACE train tipped into the adjacent Alameda creek. The second car also derailed but did not tip. Injuries in the incident were reported to include head trauma and back pain. A spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle as saying that “it’s a minor miracle no one died.”
Rail service has been shut down for the entirety of Tuesday as Union Pacific crews remove the partially submerged railcar from the creek. The salvage effort was reported completed by noon local time on March 8th but further inspections and investigations would likely keep the line closed until the next day. Approximately 5,500 passengers use the line every day, causing major inconveniences for commuters between Stockton and San Jose.
Will the investigation reveal negligence?
Initial estimates put the commuter train’s speed at around 35 miles per hour at the time of impact. The speed limit for commuter trains in the area is 40 mph, so there may have been little to no braking immediately before the collision with the fallen tree and debris, as reported by the Chronicle, a question which remains under investigation. ACE Train has stated that the engineer would not be required to submit to testing for intoxication or impairment from drugs or alcohol, claiming that the crash was unavoidable.