ACE commuter train service from Stockton to San Jose resumed today after a mudslide caused by an El Nino drenching sent a tree over the tracks near Sunol triggering a derailment that ended with one passenger car partially submerged in a rain-swollen creek.
The Altamont Corridor Express No. 10 train, which travels between the Silicon Valley and Stockton, stopping in eight cities along the way, was carrying 214 passengers. Nine passengers sustained injuries, four of them serious enough to be transported to hospitals. ACE has had only one other derailment in the past decade.
The train was traveling 35 mph in the 40 mph zone, said Steve Walker, an ACE spokesman. The first car was carrying six passengers and one crew member when it fell into Alameda Creek.
A horrific mud slide caused by heavy rain and winds “most likely” caused the derailment of the lead car Monday night as the weather uprooted at least one tree in its path, according to Union Pacific Railroad’s Francisco Castillo. The UP owns the tracks through Niles Canyon and the entire ACE route.
The crash occurred one mile west of the Sunol community where it neared Interstate 680 at about 7:15 p.m.
The train was being pushed from the rear by its engine with the point commuter car at the head of the train when it derailed and crashed into the swollen. The lead rail car crashed onto its side and became halfway submerged in Alameda Creek causing a frantic rescue effort by arriving firefighters for the six frightened passengers. A second car derailed but stayed out of the water.
Passengers described a harrowing scene.
Rad Akhter said he was in the front car that fell into Alameda Creek and saw a woman lying in mud just under a train car hanging off the tracks.
“We were all just panicking,” Akhter, who waited wrapped in a blanket for a ride home, told San Jose television station KNTV.
Passenger Russell Blackman told KGO-TV he was in the second car, which stopped near the creek.
“Our car went off the track and stopped right at the edge, which was a blessing,” Blackman said. “I was thrown out of my seat. I hurt my shoulder, but I’m not going to complain.”
Images posted on Twitter by Alameda County Fire Department showed that car on its side about half-submerged in the creek.
Passengers were evacuated and checked by paramedics. The uninjured riders were taken to the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.
Railroad crews used massive cranes Tuesday to pull the submerged passenger car out of Alameda Creek. The four cars that remained on the tracks were moved down the right-of-way by Tuesday afternoon. Niles Canyon Road was closed to vehicle traffic throughout the day in both directions.
ACE public information officer Steve Walker stressed that the train “was not speeding” as it moved through a 40 mile an hour zone adjacent to the rushing creek at a slower speed of 35 mph as it headed toward the Pleasanton station and on to Livermore, Tracy, Manteca and Stockton.
All the uninjured passengers were transported by buses to their final boarding stations by 1 a.m. Tuesday. The cost of the crash to the rails and ACE equipment was not available at press time Tuesday night.