Saturday, March 11, 2023

La Grange, Illinois, Burlington Northern Freight & Amtrak California Zephyr Passenger Train Crash, August 27, 1977.

At least 32 people were injured when an Amtrak California Zephyr passenger train collided with the just derailed oncoming Burlington Northern freight train, knocking more than 20 cars off an overpass onto the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad tracks. No passenger cars were reported off the tracks.
A Burlington Northern freight train. This photo is a visual aid.
Amtrak California Zephyr passenger train (1960s).  This photo is a visual aid.

The collision was in La Grange, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. It involved a westbound Zephyr with 192 passengers and an eastbound Burlington Northern freight train that derailed just before the collision causing the passenger train to strike the freight train.

The Zephyr locomotive laid upside down below an overpass after it collided with a Burlington Northern freight train late Saturday as it traveled over the bridge crossing the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad tracks at LaGrange, Illinois. About 12 freight cars were piled up by the collision, but none of the passenger cars on the Zephyr left the tracks. Twenty-four of the 192 passengers and Eight Amtrak employees were treated in area hospitals.

Ambulances from throughout the area were called to the scene. The authorities described most of the injured as "walking wounded" and were released from the hospitals in short order.

A crew member on the Zephyr, who did not want to be identified, said, "It's quite obvious what happened. The eastbound Burlington Northern train derailed, and the westbound Zephyr just couldn't stop in time and slammed into the Burlington Northern."

The wreck's cause was traced to a defective freight car on an eastbound train that derailed and blocked all three tracks. The westbound Zephyr hit the wreckage with the two SDP40F locomotives derailing at the bridge. The sheer weight contributed to the bridge collapse.

The wreck was a mess with numerous derailed freight cars and the two Amtrak locomotives that had to be removed before the bridge could be rebuilt and the line reopened. Thankfully only the head cars of the Zepher train were also directly involved, and nothing was moving under the bridge at the time of the wreck. 

Carlo Findalo, an attendant at a nearby service station, said he had a clear view of the collision. "I called Amtrak, and I told them one of their trains crashed, and they wouldn't believe me," Mr. Findalo said. "So I called the LaGrange police."

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. I responded along with the LGFD to this incident - I had just been hired as a full-time firefighter. The initial call came in as a train car had derailed so the department sent one engine to check it out. We spent a lot of time on-scene as the cutting torches kept setting the lumber that was part of the cargo on fire. We were lucky that there were no hazardous materials involved, just some potash. McDonald's sent their "Big Mac" bus to the scene to provide food for those of us working the incident. As I was a skinny "kid" I was selected to work my way into the overturned engine and shut down the power.


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