Two decades later, unsolved Arizona mystery: Who derailed the Sunset Limited?

October 12, 2015

In 1995, someone cut the tracks in the deep desert. An Amtrak train ran off the rails, leaving one man dead. Today, the question remains, who did it? And why?

It remains one of Arizona’s most enduring unsolved mysteries.

In the earliest hours of Monday, Oct. 9, 1995, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train sped westward through the Arizona desert, bound for California. Some 70 miles southwest of Phoenix, around 1:30 a.m., it lurched violently. Eight passenger cars derailed, and four fell off a bridge and into a dry river bed, according to reports at the time.Website Insert Our Name Tells Our Story copy

The crash killed one person, an Amtrak employee, and injured 78 others. Investigators would later find unmistakable signs of sabotage, along with cryptic notes that railed at the government. They vowed to find whoever was responsible.

Two decades later, the case is still open.

Neal Hallford had boarded the Sunset Limited two days before, in San Antonio. It would have been much faster to fly to San Diego, where his then-girlfriend lived, but he opted to take Amtrak instead.

“At the time I was having a real problem with plane phobia,” Hallford said.

For Hallford, the train trip had proved so far uneventful, if restless. A crying baby in an adjacent compartment had made it difficult to sleep the night before, he remembered. Shortly after midnight on Oct. 9, 1995, he finally drifted to sleep.

At about 1:30 a.m., a loud crashing sound jolted Hallford awake as he was thrown into the seat in front of him. His dinner tray table was still down and it jammed into his ribs. The train had come to a halt; the cars had gone pitch black. Passengers would later learn that the engine had separated from the rest of the compartments. For the time, though, Hallford could only hear other riders shouting through the dark, trying to figure out what had happened.

Read the full story from reporter Amy B. Wang in The Arizona Republic by clicking here.


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