2 workers killed in Union Pacific train crash near Salton Sea

Two Union Pacific operators were killed early Thursday when their train crashed into parked freight cars near the Salton Sea, officials said.

The freight train had been traveling through a desolate stretch of desert next to Highway 111, which runs along the eastern coast of the Salton Sea. Around 3 a.m., the train pulled off the main railroad and onto a siding, said Susan Stevens, a spokesperson for Union Pacific.

As the train pulled onto the siding — an alternate railway typically used for trains to pull over to allow oncoming traffic to go by — it hit several parked rail cars, derailing the freight train and seven of its cars, Stevens said.

Both of the train’s operators were declared dead at the crash scene, Stevens said.

First responders with the city of Calipatria said they arrived to find the derailed locomotive and the wreckage of the four parked rail cars it had plowed through.

Most of the tall shipping containers that the train was hauling remained intact. Among the debris were the two operators, who were ejected from their train, first responders said.

An Amtrak passenger train arrived in the area a few minutes after the crash, but it was able to slow to a halt.

“It definitely could’ve been worse,” one Calipatria firefighter said.

The Imperial County coroner’s office identified the two workers only as adult males, as officials worked to notify their next of kin. The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate the crash.

Investigators were still determining what prompted the train’s operators to head onto the siding before the crash and why the rail cars were parked there.

The siding is near where the tracks intersect with Range Road, which cuts off from the highway and connects to several private, residential properties. It was not clear whether the crossing played a factor in the collision.

After an Amtrak train collided with a dump truck in Missouri in June, killing four people and injuring more than 150 others, federal transportation officials faced calls to improve safety around railway crossings.

The Missouri crossing lacked lights and gates, which prompted federal investigators to call the incident preventable. Upgrades were scheduled at the crossing but had not yet begun, despite complaints from local farmers.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said about 50% of the nation’s 130,000 railway crossings are considered “passive,” meaning they don’t have lights, bells or gates.

Incidents involving highway and railroad crossings make up about a quarter of all train incidents and about 30% of all train-related fatalities, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics.

The majority of the 1,381 train-related deaths from 2019 to June 2022 involved people trespassing onto railroad tracks. In that same span, 13 railway employees have died in train accidents.

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