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RAIL ACCIDENT TRIGGERS FIRE AND CLOSING OF AMTRAK ROUTE

A head-on collision between a freight train and a large rail-maintenance unit caused a spectacular fire, more than $500,000 in damage and the 12-hour shutdown of an Amtrak passenger route, officials said.

Braking problems on a rail grinder, a heavy unit about two locomotives long that was being operated by a contractor, apparently led to the accident Friday evening, Howard Kallio of Burlington Northern Railroad said Saturday.All three locomotives and some of the approximately 35 cars on the freight train were destroyed.

Firefighters battled flames that sent up a column of smoke visible five miles. Four workers suffered minor injuries in the crash, hospital officials said.

The westbound freight train was traveling about 50 mph when the collision occurred, while the rail grinder pulling 10 cars was eastbound at about 20 mph, Kallio said.

They crashed when the rail grinder failed to stop before a point where two sets of track converge, he said.