1995 Palo Verde, Arizona derailment

The 1995 Palo Verde derailment took place on October 9, 1995, when Amtrak's Sunset Limited was derailed by saboteurs near Palo Verde, Arizona on Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. The two locomotives, Amtrak GE P32-8BWH #511 leading and EMD F40PHR #398 trailing, and eight of the twelve cars derailed, four of them falling 30 feet (9 m) off a trestle bridge into a dry river bed.[1] Mitchell Bates, a sleeping car attendant, was killed. Seventy-eight people were injured, 12 of them seriously.

Palo Verde derailment
LocationPalo Verde, Arizona
DateOctober 9, 1995
TargetAmtrak Sunset Limited
Attack type
Train derailment caused by sabotage
MotiveRetaliation of the Waco Siege


The site of the derailment in 2013. The large gouge in the embankment was created by the impact of the train.

Four typewritten notes, attacking the ATF and the FBI for the 1993 Waco Siege, criticizing local law enforcement, and signed "Sons of the Gestapo", were found near the scene of the wreck, indicating that the train had been sabotaged. All four notes were similar. Two of the notes were found by Neal Hallford and Craig Lembke, [2] passengers traveling from Oklahoma to San Diego.

It was found that the rails had been shifted out of position to cause the derailment, but only after they had been connected with wires. This kept the track circuit closed, circumventing safety systems designed to warn locomotive engineers of track problems, and suggested that the saboteurs had a working knowledge of railroads. The attack was likened to the 1939 wreck of the City of San Francisco, in which a similar method killed 24 people.[3]

The saboteurs were never identified. The FBI now believes that the "Sons of the Gestapo" terrorist group was fictitious and invented to conceal a plan to wreck and rob a freight train.[citation needed] It is also thought that the sabotage may have been done by a disgruntled rail worker who used the notes to mislead investigators and conceal the real motive.[citation needed]

After 1996, the Sunset Limited was rerouted to south of Phoenix (approaching no closer than Maricopa) due to the desire of Southern Pacific to abandon this stretch of track (leading to and through Phoenix, AZ) for its through trains between southern New Mexico and southern California. The section of track on which the wreck took place is now used as storage track only.

Media coverageEdit

The causes of this wreck have been explored in two major documentaries, Why Trains Crash: Blood on the Tracks, and Derailed: America's Worst Train Wrecks. It has also been featured on the May 10, 1996, episode of Unsolved Mysteries.[4]


The case remains unsolved, but on April 10, 2015, the Phoenix office of the FBI announced a reward of $310,000 for information about the derailment leading to the capture of those responsible.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Labaton, Stephen (October 11, 1995). "F.B.I. Studies Note for Clues On Derailment". The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2011.
  2. ^ Hallford, Neal (January 20, 2012). "The Derailment of the Sunset Limited". Swords & Circuitry Non-Fiction. Retrieved January 20, 2012.
  3. ^ "56 Years Ago, A Similar Crash". The New York Times. October 11, 1995. Retrieved November 27, 2011.
  4. ^ "Amtrak Crash". Unsolved Mysteries. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  5. ^ "FBI offers $300K reward 20 years after Arizona train derails". Retrieved April 10, 2015.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 33°12′43″N 113°00′56″W / 33.211862°N 113.015445°W / 33.211862; -113.015445