Explanation: Locomotive Images Look Different from Crash Near Crozet, Virginia; Heritage Unit Was Damaged

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There were some conflicting images in today’s Amtrak crash with Congress members aboard that could have caused confusion without the knowledge that there was a front and a rear locomotive on that crashed train. Specifically the locomotive images looked different, and that could have caused conspiracy theories to fly.

Locomotive Image from Rep Jeff DenhamImage of Amtrak locomotive tweeted @RepJeffDenham.

Notice the image from Representative Jeff Denham shows a locomotive with damage at the front of the locomotive, but the locomotive looks different than the locomotive images and video seen from the side of the crash scene taken by other sources.

Mostly likely the locomotive seen near the wrecked dump truck at the grade crossing is not the locomotive that hit the dump truck. The locomotive visible at the crash scene is likely the locomotive (apparently a GE P42DC) that was trailing the passenger cars that were pulled by the lead locomotive. It was the westbound lead locomotive (also a GE P42DC with a different paint job), out of sight at the impact scene, that hit the dump truck.

The lead locomotive image from Representative Jeff Denham shows Red, White, and Blue stripes at the front and side of a damaged locomotive. The front of the locomotive clearly says “Amtrak” not “AMTRAK” as other images show. The roof near the cabin area of the locomotive is black or midnight blue. That locomotive was likely pulling the train westbound toward West Virginia. The lead locomotive likely travelled several hundred feet after hitting the dump truck, leaving the rear passenger cars and the rear locomotive at the original impact scene.

Compare Representatives Jeff Denham’s image to other images of the train crash. Other images and video showing the crash scene show the train with an “AMTRAK” and logo marking and no Red, White and Blue striping along the front and side of the locomotive. The 145 locomotive is a favorite among railfans because it is a Heritage unit painted in one of Amtrak’s former paint schemes, known as a phase III scheme.

The picture below, tweeted by Mark Knoller, also shows the AMTRAK marking and logo with a more bland paint scheme. The locomotive has blue or turquoise paint marking at the roof near the cabin of the locomotive. There are no Red, White, and Blue stripes on that locomotive.

Mark Knoller Tweet showing  train crash scene near Crozet, Virginia Mark Knoller Tweet showing train crash scene near Crozet, Virginia with a different locomotive.

In the Denham photo, there also appears to be an upward grade with trees and brush near the locomotive on the engineer’s right — facing forward. Other photos do not show trees and brush right near the locomotive, but that is likely because these trees are several hundred feed west of the railroad grade crossing and crash scene.

The lead Heritage Unit locomotive, which had at least three wheels derailed, was detached from the rest of the train so that it could return to Charlottesville. The locomotive that was trailing the westbound passenger train became the lead locomotive for the reverse direction trip that carried passengers back eastbound to Charlottesville, Virginia.

The US officials and their families and aides were transferred to buses at the train station in Charlottesville. Under the watch of SWAT teams as a precaution against any hostile threats, the transfer occurred safely. Several buses were scheduled to make the westbound trip to the Greenbrier retreat in West Virginia.

Heritage locomotive 145 in Williamsburg Virginia on March 15, 2015.

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