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Amtrak train derails in Missouri


We're following a developing story tonight in a rural part of Missouri, where an Amtrak train has derailed. NPR's Frank Morris joins us from a nearby high school the passengers were evacuated to.

And Frank, tell us about what happened today.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. The Southwest Chief - it runs daily between LA and Chicago - was making up some lost time. It was running late, running about 90 miles an hour through a very rural, beautiful part of the state - it's just rolling cornfields - when it hit a dump truck at an uncontrolled crossing, a crossing with no gates or - you know, a rural crossing. It's on a gravel road. That killed a person in the dump truck and two people on the train.

SHAPIRO: I mentioned that you're at this high school nearby. Tell us about the scene.

MORRIS: Yeah, so this is Mendon, Mo. It's a tiny town of about 150 people. The gym is full of volunteers and folks who were riding the train. They've got their suitcases. They, you know, are just talking amongst themselves. The town is smaller. There are fewer people that live in this town than were on the train. And the folks in the gym that I spoke with were very grateful about the response. The town just swarmed over this wreck site. A lot of volunteer EMTs, volunteer firefighters were out there helping people get back to this high school.

But there are still a bunch of folks here waiting for Amtrak to come pick them up. Amtrak has not been here, they say. And so people are getting pretty frustrated.

SHAPIRO: Have there been any official briefings, information from folks in charge?

MORRIS: There's not a lot of information other than the fatalities. We don't know how many people were injured. There were a number of people taken by helicopter to area trauma centers. But we don't know - we don't have any official word of what happened. People who were on the train say the train tried to stop. They could tell that the train was hitting the brakes hard. It hit the dump truck and came almost to a stop before the lights flickered and it tipped over. Seven of the eight cars in the train derailed.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. We saw some images today of passengers sitting on that train that's on its side out there in the sun by the cornfields.

MORRIS: Right.

SHAPIRO: This is the second Amtrak accident in two days. There was another in California yesterday. Are there any similarities between the two?

MORRIS: The similarity is the uncontrolled crossing, a grade-level crossing without a barrier or flashing lights. These are common in rural areas where just gravel roads cross the tracks. And so that's what they have in common. Both trains hit vehicles in those kind of uncontrolled crossings.

SHAPIRO: And yet the fact that the vehicle in this one was a dump truck I'm sure made for a much harder impact.

MORRIS: I'm sure it did. And, you know - and again, the train was going fast, tried to stop, hit the dump truck and then fell over.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Frank Morris in a rural part of Missouri covering the breaking story of the Amtrak derailment, reporting there from a high school where passengers have been evacuated to. Frank, thank you very much.

MORRIS: Thank you, Ari. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.