Sabotage causes the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train.

An derailed Amtrak train, four cars our laying on their side next to the train tracks.

Four cars plunged 30 feet

A close up on the tracks where several large nails are sticking up out of the tracks.

Michael Bates was killed in the crash


A black and white photo of the derailed train from a different angle.

Who removed the 29 spikes?

On October 9, 1995, 60 miles southwest of Phoenix, Arizona, Amtrak’s “Sunset Limited” passenger train jumped the track going 50 mph. Four cars plunged more than 30 feet off a trestle into a dry riverbed. One person was killed and scores injured. The cause of the wreck: sabotage.

According to Bruce Gebhardt, special agent in charge with the F.B.I., agents on the scene found rails that had been tampered with:

“The investigation determined that 29 spikes were removed, purposely removed. And not only were the spikes removed, but someone had pushed the rail inside so that the two rails were not connected.”

Additional evidence convinced authorities that the saboteurs knew a lot about railroads. The signal circuits, the electrical wires that run through the track, had been kept intact. According to Agent Gebhardt, that meant the train crew had no warning that there was a problem with the rails:

“The FBI believes that they picked that particular spot in order to create the most damage and possibly cause the most injuries or death. The train was going about 50 miles per hour. It’s on a curve and it occurred right before a trestle.”

An ad for the SP Trainline

Similar crash in 1939

Investigators soon discovered many similarities to another act of sabotage, more than a half century before. According to historian Kevin Bunker, in 1939, 24 people were killed and 117 injured in another suspicious train wreck in the Nevada desert:

“The most mysterious connection between the accidents is the fact that the sabotage was done ahead of a bridge in a desert country of remote location. There was definitely care in advance, you know, that the wires were intact at all times. Merely moving one piece of metal, in this case, one rail, a matter of less than four inches, allowed both trains to careen off on the curve as they crossed the river and the damage occurred.”

Curiously, the story of the 1939 crash had been published in a journal for train buffs shortly before the Amtrak accident. Federal agents questioned many of the readers, but came up empty-handed.

An ad for the SP Trainline

Did this article trigger the sabotage?

Investigators have just one other concrete clue. Near the accident site, FBI agents found four copies of a computer-printed letter attacking the federal government. It was signed, “Sons of the Gestapo.” FBI Agent Bruce Gebhardt said the group’s existence has never been verified:

“We’re still trying to investigate to determine whether or not that is a red herring to try to throw us off the investigation or whether or not that particular group exists.”

The one person killed in the crash was a sleeping car attendant named Mitchell Bates. Whoever is responsible for the wreck will be charged with murder, as well as sabotage.

Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season eight with Robert Stack and in season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.



  1. Roy

    I wonder if the FBI ever looked into the possibility that freight train hoppers may have played a part in the derailment. A group of outlaw rail riders named the Freight Train Riders of America were heavily active in the 90’s. The gang is responsible for multiple thefts, assaults, and murders. The serial killer Robert Silveria was a member of the gang. The FTRA had an extensive knowledge of the US rail system including tain schedules, crew changes, and how to rig railway equipment. The gang was also very outspoken in their distaste for the US government. Often defrauding federal and state governments through food stamp and welfare fraud. Obviously whoever did this knew about the rail system and the equipment used.


  2. Uncle Pete

    The furloughs and layoffs were coming with UP taking over!


  3. bryan

    i don’t know i think that the 1939 and 1995 incidents are related


  4. Alex

    It’s no secret back then that the once glamorous and cutting edge Southern Pacific was going bankrupt. The sale to Union Pacific went fully through less than a year later (1996). A lot of SP employees were disgruntled because they were taking substantial pay cuts and getting a worse work environment/equipment; plus UP management didn’t treat them as well. Whoever did it obviously knew the area… The only people really out there were cattle ranchers and railroad employees. That section of track was scheduled to be abandoned anyway, meaning transfers of employees and less work hours.


  5. Stan

    I have followed this case for at least 12 years, and I have been to this location numerous times. Further, I was contacted by FBI agent C.K., who was in charge of this case some years back, after I left a comment on this site. I believe the FBI knows who was responsible for this, but lack sufficient evidence which would tie them to the act. The derailing of the City of San Francisco was an unrelated incident, of course, since it happened long before this act, but it is intriguing that the setup was similar.


  6. Anonymous

    More than One part time, people employed paid, or did them self’s, damage to the track, for more work and benefits, More than one, damaged the track, for being fired, in all the counties except one county, I get


  7. chanita

    it had happened in 1939 right? hmm somebody had to be inspired to do something that stupid that will be the day!


  8. Blue bird

    Why Would somebody Remove The 29 Spikes? And Who Killed That Man? And Injured Those Other People? Somebody Knows Something!


  9. Austin Brock Miner

    I will pray for him


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