WASHINGTON — A train carrying Republican House and Senate members of Congress to a retreat at a posh West Virginia resort collided with a dump truck in a crossing grade Wednesday morning, killing one person on the truck and seriously injuring another.
The Amtrak train, chartered by the congressmen, slammed into the truck at bout 50 miles-per-hour, cutting the vehicle into two pieces. Three people were reported in the truck at the time.
Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., who was on board, said he knew the seriousness of the violent crash right away.
“I’m an engineer so I know when you feel something that’s got as much mass as a train, anything you hit that causes you to feel it on the train, you know it’s a pretty significant collision,” he said.
An aide to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) confirmed that he was aboard the train, but said he was fine.
“We’re fine, but our train hit a garbage truck,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), said on Twitter. “Members with medical training are assisting the drivers of the truck.”
There were at least 10 medically trained lawmakers headed to the conference. members of the informal “Doc Caucus.” One member of Congress was able to unlock the doors of the train to permit exiting.
The train left Union Station in Washington, D.C. around 8:30 a.m. and struck the truck at 11:20 a.m., according to Amtrak.
The University of Virginia Health System said Wednesday afternoon that three patients had been transported to UVA Medical Center and that it was expecting two additional patients. One of the patients was listed in critical condition.
Rep. Jason Lewis, (R-Minn.) was transported to a hospital, where he was being evaluated for a possible concussion, according to an aide in his office.
The National Tranasportation Safety Board said Wednesday afternoon that it was “gathering information” about the cause of the collision, which was not immediately known. The identity of the person who died has not yet been released — nor the reason the truck was on the track.
Amtrak added in a statement that two of its crew members and three passengers were among those injured.
Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y)., told CNN he was able to see the truck that hit the train, and that he was told that injuries were expected from people in the truck, not train.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump is being kept abreast of the developments about the crash.
“The President has been fully briefed on the situation in Virginia and is receiving regular updates. There is one confirmed fatality and one serious injury. There are no serious injuries among members of Congress or their staff. Senior Administration officials are in regular contact with Amtrak and state and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident.”
“There was (what) looks like a tractor trailer carrying trash that was hit by the train,”said Faso, who was in the third car of the train. “I think everyone on the train is OK. I don’t know that for sure, it’s a long train. But most of the concern is for the people outside.”
The accident occurred near Crozet, Va., just west of Charlottesville, about 127 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The chartered train was traveling to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. The number of passengers could not be confirmed.
Amtrak released a brief statement saying the train, which remained on the tracks, “came into contact” with the truck.
“There are no reported injuries to passengers or crew members. Local law enforcement is investigating the incident and crews are inspecting the equipment for damage,” Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said in a statement.
Highway and rail crossing incidents have increased in recent years. An Federal Railroad Administration report found that the increases were likely due to higher traffic volumes. According to a May 2017 Federal Railroad Administration report, from 2010-2014 there was an average of 2,100 incidents per year of these collisions between trains and vehicle
The GOP retreat is going ahead with an adjusted program, a spokesperson for the Congressional Institute, the hosting body, said in the statement.
“The program will now include a moment of prayer for those involved in today’s incident and a security briefing from the Sergeant at Arms and United State Capitol Police,” the statement said.
Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to address the gathering at 7 p.m. Pence tweeted after the accident that he was receiving “regular updates” on the crash and would still be traveling to West Virginia.
President Trump is to attend for a lunch later in the retreat.
The luxury property Greenbrier is owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican who ran as a Democrat for governor in 2016 then switched back to the Republican Party after being elected. The billionaire has drawn comparisons to President Trump, who welcomed the news of Justice’s return to the GOP earlier this year.
At the 2017 retreat in Philadelphia, Republicans announced an agenda to repeal and replace the health care law by spring and to rewrite the tax code by August. They failed to do the former and are still working on the latter.
The train was expected to continue on its journey.
Developing story …