Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Ninth Circuit Rejects Passengers’ Suits in Amtrak Sabotage
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Lawsuits brought by passengers injured in the still-unsolved 1995 sabotage of an Amtrak train in Arizona were turned aside yesterday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Plaintiffs did not produce sufficient evidence to support their assertions that the train’s engineers should have kept a better eye on the tracks and that they should have noticed the track damage before the train hit it.
On person was killed and at least 100 more were injured in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 1995, when Amtrak’s Sunset Limited derailed east of Hyder, Ariz.
Three cars of the train left their rails over a bridge. Two careened into a dry wash, and another was left hanging.
Investigators said saboteurs rewired the tracks to assure that the train signals remained green as they removed the spikes that connected a section of track to the wood ties beneath them.
A manifesto was found near the tracks, signed “Sons of Gestapo” and delivering a message attacking the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI. References were made to the federal sieges of Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
Suit was filed on behalf of injured passengers in U.S. District Court in Arizona.
Judge Robert C. Broomfield granted summary judgment to the defendants which included Amtrak and owners of the rails. He ruled that the defendants could not be held negligent as a matter of law because the act of sabotage was an unforeseeable, intervening act and the sole cause of the train wreck.
Broomfield also denied the plaintiffs’ requests to submit affidavits by three experts. The experts were the plaintiffs only offer of proof of negligence.
Writing for the Ninth Circuit panel, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin said there was no proof that the two engineers charged with watching the tracks would have seen anything to alert them to the sabotage.
The experts offered opinions that a separation in the tracks would have been visible to people properly keeping an eye on the rails. But Goodwin said Broomfield was right to keep that testimony out since there was no evidence that there was any visible track gap.
Expert Charles Culver’s “conclusion that the engineers on board the train should have observed the rail when it was illumined by the engine’s lights at approximately 500 feet…was good as far as it went,” Goodwin said. “But there was no factual basis for the assumption that anything was visible on the ‘twin ribbons of rail [that] can often be seen shining for a considerable distance ahead of the locomotive.’”
The case is Guidroz-Brault v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, 99-16458.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company