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34 HURT IN AMTRAK DERAILMENT : RAIL SERVICE DOWN INDEFINITELY FROM NEWARK, N.J., TO NEW YORK.

Byline: Ravi Nessman Associated Press

An Amtrak train carrying mail and passengers jumped the track at 60 mph Saturday, landing in a swamp and injuring 34 people.

The derailment caused massive rail service problems between Newark, N.J., and New York City, with two tracks closed and no estimate as to when they might reopen.

The mail train sideswiped another Amtrak train as it derailed, but no one aboard the second train was hurt. Only two injured people from the mail train required hospitalization.

The train's two locomotives, a mail car and three passenger cars left the tracks, said Amtrak spokesman Rick Remington. The train was en route from Washington to Boston and had 88 passengers and 25 Amtrak employees.

Afterward, the cars lay in a zigzag pattern in the muddy wetlands. After the derailment, some passengers had to stand in knee-deep water for about 30 minutes before they were rescued.

The marshy crash site, just over a bridge, helped minimize injuries, Secaucus Mayor Anthony Just said.

``The wetlands sponged it. . . . It's like a big cushion,'' Just said.

The early morning crash came just after the 12-car Fast Mail train had crossed the Hackensack River Bridge in this northern New Jersey town about six miles west of New York City.

After a stop in Newark, it was en route to New York City and going 60 mph, the bridge speed limit, said an Amtrak police officer who declined to be identified by name.

``There was an electrical problem with the bridge last night that was looked at, and we don't see any connection between that and what happened here,'' Remington said.

It was not immediately known how long rail service between Newark and New York would be out. Both tracks at the scene were closed because of equipment on the tracks and damaged wires that power the electric trains, Remington said.

Most of the 34 injuries were minor. Two victims were taken to University Hospital in Newark, where authorities said their injuries weren't life-threatening but disclosed no further details.

Some crash victims were taken to a senior center for coffee and to collect their nerves before boarding buses for New York City.

``They're sort of in shock,'' Just said. ``When you get through that and you see it as you walk past, you're lucky to be alive.''

The mail train sideswiped The Carolinian, an Amtrak train traveling south from New York to Charlotte, N.C. No one on the southbound train was hurt, but passengers had to change to another train in Newark, Remington said.

Kenneth Waiters of Philadelphia, an Amtrak foreman who was on the Fast Mail train on his way to a casino in Connecticut to celebrate his wife's birthday, said the accident was a blur.

``All I know is we were in a swamp,'' said Waiters, 43. ``I heard a loud thump and everything started going bumpy . . . and we were in a swamp. I thought I was dead.''

Waiters and his wife, Norma, who turns 39 Sunday, suffered minor injuries. Riding in one of the three passenger cars that derailed, they were forced to stand in muddy swamp water until emergency teams reached the scene.

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Map

Photo: An Amtrak train traveling from Washington to Boston derailed and plunged down an embankment into a marsh near Secaucus, N.J.

Knight Ridder-Tribune Photo Service

Map: Secaucus Train derails
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 24, 1996
Words:562
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