A slow boat ride from Blakely State Park takes passengers to place where tragedy shattered the night 23 years ago.
A tug boat captain lost in the fog and darkness pushes his barge into a train trestle moving the tracks just enough to cause the Sunset Limited to derail.
The engine embedded into the east bank, “The engines are about 66 feet long. Two-thirds of it went into that bank.” Two passenger cars were hurled into the water, others plowing into the wreckage. Forty-seven people died.
John Lamb volunteers with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Flotilla and was first on the scene that night to help. “This is the first time I’ve come back here,” he says. The was on fire around the wreckage. He remembers it like it happened yesterday. “As we got here, we pulled up on the bank over here, went down through the cars, Terrell Washington and myself. We got the people out of the cars and onto the tracks.”
Onboard the Sunset Limited that night was Tom Russ’s younger brother Ernie. He was an engineer training to take over the route. “My wife heard on the radio there had been an Amtrak wreck in Mobile,” he recalls, “and I was downstairs and said he’s not on that train because he’s not scheduled to start until Saturday.”
This is a trip he has wanted to take for a while and glad he did. “You can see it just like you were here that day, at least I can.”
Before leaving, a rose was dropped into Bayou Canot for each person who died. Their name called out again for all to hear, to remember and never forget.
This was the first time Blakely State Park has dedicated a boat tour to the site. Park officials say they will plan more if the demand is there.