Amtrak Downeaster trains running a day after crash

NORTH BERWICK, Maine (AP) — A tractor-trailer left 200 feet of skid marks on the pavement as the driver tried in vain to stop before sliding into the path of an Amtrak train, causing a fiery collision that killed the trucker and injured several of the train’s passengers and crew members.

The locomotive, cruising at 70 mph, smashed the truck’s cab into several pieces on Monday, and witnesses described a fireball shooting skyward.

Witnesses reported that safety lights were flashing and gates were down at the railroad crossing on Route 4, and police don’t know why the tractor-trailer driver failed to stop. Killed was Peter Barnum, 35, of Farmington, N.H., who was hauling a load of trash to a regional incinerator, police said.

There were no life-threatening injuries among the 112 passengers and three crew members aboard Amtrak’s Downeaster, which originated in Boston and was traveling northward to Portland.

Service on the route was delayed after the collision, and passengers completed the trip to Portland by bus. Debris and equipment were removed from the tracks in time for service to resume about 12 hours later with the final run of the night from Boston to Portland.

“It looked like somebody dropped a bomb. The flames were shooting higher than a three-story house,” said Tom Gorski, who works in a building about 50 yards from the intersection.

Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said the collision could’ve been far worse. Last month, a man drove a semitrailer into the side of a passenger train in Nevada in a fiery crash that killed six people and injured more than 20.

But Monday’s collision was bad enough. The northbound train dragged the truck’s cab about 200 yards, then continued down the tracks before coming to a stop a half-mile from the crossing.

Both the locomotive and the tractor-trailer caught fire, and firefighters also had to douse brush fires. The train’s engineer hopped off the locomotive, separated the burning engine from the passenger cars and moved the engine down the tracks to keep the flames from spreading, Deputy Fire Chief Larry Straffin said.

The engineer was one of two Amtrak crew members who were injured, along with four of the passengers, Quinn said. Three of the injured were taken to a hospital in Sanford, where two were treated for smoke inhalation and the third for a head injury, before being released, a spokeswoman said.

The locomotive was totally charred after the fire was extinguished, obscuring its markings, said Brianna Bataran, 17, of North Berwick. “You couldn’t even tell what kind of train it was.”

Barnum was working for Triumvirate Environmental Inc., a trucking company based in Massachusetts, and investigators said his truck left 200 feet of skid marks leading to the point of impact, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

The company issued a statement saying it was cooperating with investigators. “The safety and well-being of our employees is Triumvirate Environmental’s top priority and we are cooperating fully with local authorities as they conduct their investigation,” the statement said.

Quinn said Tuesday the 5:45 a.m. Downeaster left Portland on schedule Tuesday, although there could be delays because of a 10 mph speed limit around the site of the crash.

Nearly 1,400 passengers a day ride the Portland-to-Boston service.

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