The disaster that everyone knew was going to happen

FLOPPY FLYER — AR 20, photographed in 1967. A closer look reveals the numbers on the engine as mirror-images, the result of the photo's being "flopped," or printed backwards. (Photo courtesy of Bill McGee, Barbwire 10-31-1998.)

July 4 Railroad Jobs: We're Red, White and Screwed
Barbwire by Barbano / Expanded from the 7-3-2011 Daily Sparks Tribune

Dear Readers and Subscribers:

Rail engineer Ron Kaminkow has asked for removal of his comments about the system's safety conditions. Some have been picked up by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Bro. Kaminkow has apparently been besieged by media requests although this website published neither his e-mail address nor his phone number. He may reconsider in the future.

As the legendary Travus T. Hipp once advised, you'd better catch it the first time it comes by or you may not get another chance. (More memorably, he also noted that sometimes cheap shots are the only shots you get.)

I apologize for any inconvenience.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano, Editor

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In 2011, we go for the Sombrero


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In 2011, we go for the Sombrero

On Friday, 24 June 2011, Amtrak #5, The California Zephyr, was hit by a truck at speed in the Nevada desert, some 75 miles east of Reno. The truck driver, conductor and four passengers were killed. A number of other passengers and two additional trainmen were injured.

For an initial account of the accident, please see the Las Vegas Sun's first report.

There have been countless close calls and incidents at this railroad crossing in recent years.

On 4 Sept. 2010, Amtrak Train #5 was put into emergency at this crossing by the engineer who expected an imminent collision with another truck (this one was headed southbound). Please see the KRNV TV-4 website. The Reno Gazette-Journal has also reviewed it.

In the 2010 incident, the truck skidded, hit the guardrail and slammed into the pole that supports the overhead flashers, which then crashed into the train.

Miraculously, the truck failed to hit the train and no one was hurt in this "trial run" of what would happen just nine months later.

Additional links and reader comments

Amtrak train crash: Nevada crossings to be investigated after report of near-miss 9 months ago
Engineers paint the crossing at Trinity, Nev., near Fallon, as a disaster-in-waiting
Reno Gazette-Journal / 6-30-2011
(Why does no one ever notice that a near-miss means there was a hit?)

Reno Gazette-Journal continuing coverage

Lahontan Valley News/Fallon Eagle Standard

Go to to look up trucking company records

Reader comments

>Thanks Andy, good post and sheds more light on some of the factors in this unfortunately accident.
One thing I've not read in the reports is just what side the impact happened on, but the engineer
and that response finally tells which. —Dan, Sparks

>Thanks Andy, very enlightening. Funny how none (that I saw) of the news organizations ever interviewed the engineer —Bonnie, Reno

>Please add me to your list. — Juanita, Sparks


>I have engineer friends. We need to keep heat off them. Very stressful job. —Laurice, San Francisco

>Please take a moment of silence for the lost, the injured, their caregivers, families and emergency personnel. —Andrew Barbano
>Thanks for sharing. We will take a moment today —Laura, Reno
>Definitely, Andrew. Prayers are being said, with deepest sympathy. A horrible occurrence, indeed. —Barry, Minneapolis

>Thanks very much. That was very informative. Overlay nuclear waste rail transportation and it gets even more complicated in other ways. —Abby, Carson City Safety War Room and Archives


Two Amtrak Conductors: A Story of Selfless Bravery
Contributed by Railroad Workers United / June 29, 2011

This is a story about heroes.

It is a story about two United Transportation Union conductor-heroes in Fallon, Nev., June 24, 2011.

In utter disregard of their own safety, these UTU conductor-heroes braved intense flames and choking smoke, repeatedly returning inside two burning Amtrak passenger cars to save the lives of dozens of disoriented, injured and frightened passengers — passengers who otherwise would have been hopelessly trapped in the burning wreckage hit by a tractor-trailer combination at highway-rail grade crossing.

And in the custom of American band-of-brothers soldiers, one of these UTU conductor heroes went back one last time to bring out one of his own – removing the body of a fellow conductor before the growing flames could consume the body.

Senior military officers would be considering Bronze or Silver stars, a Navy Cross — even the Medal of Honor — for such selfless acts of extreme bravery. Amtrak President Joe Boardman is said to be considering a special honor for these two UTU conductor-heroes.

Don’t expect these UTU heroes to be anything but modest. Fact is, you find UTU conductor-heroes everywhere who serve and protect.

On 9/11, it was UTU conductors on Port Authority Trans Hudson in New York City who wouldn’t allow the doors of the last train below the World Trade Center to close until every person on the platform was safely on board. Hundreds of lives were saved by these selfless UTU conductor-heroes.

In Covington, Va., in February, UTU conductor Dale Smith disregarded his own safety to dash down a steep embankment and into the partially frozen Jackson River to save the life of fellow conductor Alvin (A.J.) Boguess, who had fallen from a trestle, 55-feet above the water.

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

UTU conductors regularly prove Fitzgerald had it backwards.

Time and again, UTU hero conductors validate, “Show me a tragedy and I’ll write you a story about heroes.”

Indeed. Six died in this tragic Amtrak accident; many more likely would have had it not been for these UTU conductor-heroes.

In the harrowing moments following the horrendous accident, assistant conductor and UTU Local 166 member Richard d’Alessandro, who initially was knocked unconscious in a dormitory car that took the initial hit from the truck, recovered finding himself laying outside in the desert to discover his arm broken and a finger missing.

In complete disregard for his personal safety, and ignoring his own painful injuries, he took to his radio to broadcast help – “Dispatch everything you have.”

He climbed back into the burning cars, worked his way through the dark smoke and flames in search of passengers who were completely disoriented – many injured — leading one, then another, and still others to safety through emergency exit windows.

His rescues complete, d’Alessandro’s next action was to obtain water for the elderly, which he began distributing.

Also in the dormitory car was off-duty conductor and UTU Local 1525 (Carbondale, Ill.) member Loxie Sanders, traveling to California to be with a daughter facing surgery.

With flames surrounding him, Sanders knocked out emergency windows, joining with d'Alessandro to lead injured, disoriented and frightened passengers to safety. As he heard a voice, he led the passenger to an exit window, helping them out and down to other rescuers ten feet below the car.

Only when all passengers he could find had been led to safety did Sanders, suffering from smoke inhalation, exit the burning car.

But he went back. He went back in search of 68-year-old conductor and UTU Local 166 member Laurette Lee, whom he found dead under a metal door. Ignoring the flames and dense smoke, Sanders lifted the body and carried it outside the car away from the all-consuming flames.

Concerned that more passengers might still be in the growing inferno, Sanders went back again – his hand severely burned from scaling the car to gain entry.

Listening for voices, Sanders worked his way to more disoriented passengers, leading them, also, to safety. Only when there were no more voices to be heard in the smoke that made vision almost impossible did Sanders consider his own safety and exit the burning car a final time.

Said NTSB investigator Ted Turpin: “That was the greatest act of heroism I’ve seen in my [15 years] as an [accident] investigator”.

More heroes appeared – from a Union Pacific freight train following the ill-fated westbound Amtrak California Zephyr. Unidentified crew members from the UP train ran to the scene and assisted the passengers.

d’Alessandro and Sanders were transported to a local hospital. Among their first visitors was Amtrak President Boardman, who had taken the first available flight to Reno to be at the scene of the disaster.

As injured passengers were interviewed by investigators, they recalled most and vividly the heroic actions of these selfless rails – d’Alessandro, Sanders, and the still unnamed UP crew.

Hardened accident investigators from the NTSB and Federal Railroad Administration choked with emotion as they listened, reports UTU Arizona State Legislative Director Grey Hynes, a member of the UTU Transportation Safety Team, who was assisting the NTSB in the investigation.

“Brave men. Brave men,” was all Hynes could say.

It was more than enough.


U-News/ Useful Nevada News & Comment Links

Workers marching for justice through downtown Reno in 1994.
(Betty J. Barbano photo)

Gomorrah South
Hugh Jackson's Las Vegas Gleaner

Las Vegas CityLife
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas Sun
Tom Gallagher's Nevada Today
Pahrump Valley Times


Carson City Nevada Appeal et al.
Cory Farley
Daily Sparks Tribune
Dennis Myers Reports
Elko Daily Free Press
Humboldt Sun
Lovelock Review-Miner
Myrna the Minx
Reno Gazette-Journal
Wm. Puchert's Reno Iconoclast
Reno Independent Media Center
Reno News & Review


Ely Times
Rick Spilsbury's NoShootFoot blog













Many of the news links on this site are from Nevada dailies. In late 2006, the Reno Gannett-Journal began nuking much of its archive. If you encounter any broken links, I encourage you to contact them and send me a copy. On the one hand, they want to build their web traffic in order to increase the price of ads. On the other hand, they are killing that very traffic. Far be it from me to reconcile the Dilbert-style motivations of an outfit for which a 38 percent net profit is not enough. If you can explain it, please enlighten me. (Before you e-mail me, please read this bulletin AB) UPDATE: In early 2008, the Las Vegas Sun "upgraded " its website, nuking more than a dozen years of links. If you find an orphaned Sun story, search their site for the title. | U-News | Bulletins + Almanac
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Copyright © 1982-2011 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan, editor of and; and former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, He is producer of Nevada's annual César Chávez Day celebration and serves as first vice-president, political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail

Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in those parts ever since. Tempus fugit.

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