PLANT CITY -- A collision between an Amtrak train and a truck at a private business's railroad crossing at U.S. 92 and Park Road killed the truck's driver and derailed the train Tuesday afternoon.
Nine of the train's 133 passengers were taken to local hospitals with minor injuries, including one person with respiratory problems who was having trouble breathing, authorities said.
The container truck carrying a load of aluminum caught fire on impact, officials said. The train rolled past the truck as it tried to stop, leaving the demolished truck 150-200 feet behind the train. Both locomotives and all nine passenger cars in the train derailed, and the train was evacuated, said Eugene Shuler, Plant City Fire Rescue operations chief.
Passengers from the train were crowded into the nearby Family Bowl bowling alley while rescue officials assessed the situation. They cooled off with drinks, and after more than an hour a few people began to leave as rides arrived for them.
The Amtrak train No. 92, on the Silver Star line en route from Miami to New York City, was headed westbound to Tampa to pick up passengers for its run to New York. About 40 to 50 people have been waiting at the Ybor City train station with their luggage, trying to figure out when they will be able to depart.
The train was due to arrive at 3:30 p.m. It crashed just before 3:15 p.m., officials said.
By 5:30 p.m., railroad officials had come up with a plan for dealing with the passengers. Those who were on the derailed train will be bussed to Orlando, put up in a hotel for the night, and then taken aboard a New York-bound train Wednesday afternoon. That train will follow the same schedule as Tuesday's train.
Passengers on the derailed train whose destination was Tampa will be brought the last few miles by bus, according to the station manager at Tampa's Union Station.
This was the second time in as many days that an Amtrak train collided with a vehicle in the area. Four people in a car were killed Monday when the driver ignored crossing barriers and drove into the path of a Miami-to-New York Amtrak train carrying 161 passengers in Lakeland.
Annaliese Barnes, 18, of Wesley Chapel and her 8-year-old sister, Zaria White, were passengers on the train. They had gotten onto the train in Fort Lauderdale, where they had been visiting their grandmother, and were headed home.
Suddenly, they heard the screeching of the train's brakes. The train stopped suddenly, and the two girls smelled smoke, which Annaliese described as "terrifying." Zaria started to cry. Both neither of them was hurt.
Eduardo Whaite, 16, of Venezuela, was taking the train from Miami to Tampa to surprise his family, who he hasn't seen in a few months. He was sleeping when he heard the train's brakes and then a crash. Then everyone could smell gasoline, he said. Passengers grabbed their bags and started running for the exits. Many of them were screaming and crying. "I thought I was going to die. I was really scared because nobody from my family knew I was on the train."
Steve Dickerson, 36, of West Palm Beach, was discussing the train's progress toward Lakeland with fellow passenger Arrie Bagwell. The train began picking up speed as it headed away from Tampa, said Bagwell, 44, of Greer, S.C. As Bagwell gazed out the window, smoke and pieces of metal from the truck suddenly started flying past their car.
The truck's driver, who died at the scene of the crash, was a 34-year-old Plant City man, said Florida Highway Patrol trooper Larry Coggins.
The crash led to two minor fires -- one in the train and also a brush fire in the surrounding grassy, wooded area.
Coggins said the truck was a semi truck with a container resembling a Dumpster attached to it. Loaded with aluminum, it was leaving a business called Universal Structure Inc. and was crossing the railroad tracks at a private crossing at the company's access road.
The crossing has no crossing arm or lights or bells. But witnesses say they heard the train's whistle blowing just before the accident, said the FHP's Coggins.
With Amtrak 92 bound for New York City derailed, it not only left passengers stranded in Tampa, but also blocked the path of a southbound train, Amtrak 91 bound for Miami. That train has been sitting on the tracks, its 10 cars full of passengers, awaiting news on when it will be able to proceed. Later Tuesday, railroad officials said passengers would be taken by bus to Miami on Tuesday.
Shirley Norwood, 51, has been in St. Petersburg visiting friends and was catching the train back to Raleigh, N.C. "I just wish people wouldn't try to beat the train," she said. "When those lights come on, I just wish they would stop."
The nine injured passengers were taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center and South Florida Baptist Hospital.