Buffalo FBI doubles reward for train vandalism

By Carolyn Thompson
Buffalo, New York (AP) July 2010

The FBI doubled its reward July 22 for help in finding whoever tried to derail an Amtrak passenger train traveling through the Cattaraugus Reservation during July.

With $20,000 now set aside for information that leads to a conviction, federal authorities said an aggressive multi-agency investigation would continue into railroad ties positioned across the CSX tracks on the Seneca Nation reservation early July 5.

No one was injured when a train carrying 354 people hit the barricade at 70 mph, but the train’s undercarriage was damaged. The train stopped briefly before continuing on.

“If that Amtrak train was derailed, we would have several casualties, deaths of innocent people,” Special Agent-In-Charge James Robertson said.

He declined to speculate about motive, but investigators have noted a “No Mail – No Rail” sign nearby, apparently referencing the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act, a new federal law that threatens many Seneca businesses by preventing them from shipping cigarettes through the mail.

Seneca leaders have condemned the vandalism, which authorities believe occurred between 4 a.m., when a train traveled the tracks without incident, and 8:45 a.m., when the Amtrak train struck the ties.

“We believe we have the full support of (Seneca) President Barry Snyder and the tribal council,” Robertson said. “We’re conducting interviews with their marshals and have nothing but complete support.”

U.S. Attorney William Hochul said the suspect or suspects would face a charge of “attempting to derail a train whether by terrorist means or otherwise,” a crime that requires no motive and carries a possible sentence of life in prison.

Amtrak Deputy Police Chief Richard Smith said trains continue to operate at track speed through the reservation, but engineers and conductors have been asked to report suspicious activity.