MEBANE, N.C. - An Amtrak-operated train with 36 passengers on board derailed Thursday in North Carolina, injuring at least 13 people and setting the locomotive and a car on fire.
The Piedmont train derailed shortly after 8 a.m. when it struck a lowboy trailer used to carry large equipment at a crossing in Mebane, authorities said. Amtrak operates the train, which the state of North Carolina owns.
"I have never witnessed anything like that ever in my life," Bob Farrar of Mebane, who saw the accident during a morning walk, told the Times-News of Burlington. "It was like seeing special effects from a movie happen right in front of you."
Witness Kent Cates told WRAL-TV: "Diesel fuel from the train busted and started blazing up pretty good. It didn't look like anybody (was) hurt badly. It sounded like a big boom, big explosion. You could see bolts and stuff coming off the train and onto people's cars."
Amtrak said in a news release that 12 passengers and one crew member were injured in the derailment and were taken to one of three hospitals: Alamance Regional Medical Center in Burlington; Duke University Hospital in Durham or the University of North Carolina Hospital.
The crossing at the intersection of 5th and East Center streets in Mebane has a gate with flashing lights that was working at the time of the derailment, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Rail Division said.
Six previous accidents have occurred at the crossing dating back to 1978, including a wreck in 2005 that killed a 78-year-old, according to records from the Federal Railroad Administration. No one was injured in the most recent accident, which occurred in February.
The Piedmont, train No. 73, runs daily between Charlotte and Raleigh. In addition to the locomotive, the train had a baggage car and three passenger cars. The derailment disrupted service on the Piedmont and on trains 79 and 80, which travel between New York and Charlotte.
Amtrak said the uninjured passengers on the Piedmont were being taken to their destinations by bus. Passengers on trains 79 and 80 will be offered service from Rocky Mount or Greensboro.