When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Trains (again)

train wreckThe guy that’s still alive leaped from the train at 60 mph or so. The three guys who didn’t jump, but who rode the trains allthe way to the head-on impact, are just¬†missing.¬†

One person was injured and three people left missing after two BNSF Railway trains suffered a head-on train collision near Amarillo, Texas, leading to a massive pile-up of box cars and a huge inferno that has cloaked the sky in black smoke.

The collision, which occurred Tuesday morning near the town of Panhandle, about 25 miles northeast of Amarillo, resulted in at least two dozen box cars being crumpled and derailed, as well as the reported casualties, all of whom were train crew.

BNSF Railway spokesman Joe Faust said the collision happened at about 8:40 am Tuesday. State, railroad and federal authorities have not provided details on the cause of the crash.

via One hurt and three missing after two trains collide head-on in Texas | Daily Mail Online.

By today, two of the “missing” were found in the wreckage — dead, of course — and a little more has been learned about the accident. Here’s an update at NBC News (chosen over ABC because ABC’s video autoplays). The dead man, the injured man who jumped free, and the man who is missing and presumed dead are all employees of the BNSF railroad. The trains were bound from Chicago to LA and from San Bernardino to Chicago, respectively.

13 thoughts on “When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Trains (again)

  1. roadgeek

    Although the Panhandle Subdivision of the BNSF is double-tracked, the two trains were on the same track. The westbound Los-Angeles-bound train was to take a siding on the east side of Panhandle, and allow the eastbound Chicago-bound train to pass. It’s unclear to me why the two trains were on the same track, but I’ve heard it said that the other track was closed for Maintenance-of-Way. At any rate the eastbounder ran three signals, the last one 525 feet before the western switch point. At this time the westbound crew became aware of a problem. After big-holing his train, the engineer dove out the door on his side of the cab. His conductor didn’t make it, unclear why, but probably not enough time. It’s believed that there was about 30-45 seconds between the westbounder seeing the by-now runaway eastbounder and the wreck. One survivor, wounded. Three fatalities, one of those a woman. All had family. All had long service with BNSF; Lara Taylor, the woman, had the briefest time in with only 12 years. Given that the eastbounder made no attempt to stop, it’s thought that the crew may have been incapacitated. Visibility was excellent, but the sun would have been in the eastbound crews eyes, which may have been a factor. I’m going with the incapacitation theory, given the long service of all the crew members, and running THREE signals is improbable. Not impossible, but improbable. I’m going with CO poisoning.

    All speculation, of course, until the NTSB and FRA issue reports. People take the railroads for granted, which is to be forgiven. However, they make our comfortable lives possible by hauling the cargo they haul. They deliver electricity in the form of coal, and hopper after boxcar of food for our grocery stores. The work is monotonous and boring, but it can turn deadly in a moment, or even 30 seconds, as in Panhandle.

    1. Kirk

      Is CO poisoning a major likelihood, though? I’d think they’d have that pretty well monitored, wouldn’t they?

    2. Loren

      If the crew was incapacitated why didn’t the dead man switch kick in and stop the train?

      1. roadgeek

        CO is my WAG. I suspect it is monitored, however. Yes, I agree with your question about the Dead Man Switch. Another great question, and I have no answer for that one.

        1. Quill_&_Blade

          I paint the equipment, so I don’t know about the operations much; but -maybe- a bypass arrangement would happen on a backwoods shortline, I have doubts about an operation as big as BNSF. The FRA is to trains what the FAA is to planes, and it’s really serious stuff. At least in our neck of the woods. The whole thing is strange; taking a curve too fast is one thing, but this is weird.

    3. Hognose Post author

      If it was CO poisoning the tox screen should point it up. In fact they can probably tell by looking at the blood of the victims, if I understand correctly the way an NTSB guy explained it to me once.

    1. roadgeek

      Event recorders, as they’re called in the rail industry. Plus excellent video from the cameras the railroads installed on the locomotives to cut down on auto-train litigation. Now if none of this survived on the two leading locomotives, there were six or seven trailing units that also have a story to tell. The new CTC technology is due to be installed on this section of track this fall.

  2. LSWCHP

    I know that area well, and have seen those big trains many times. It’s hard to imagine the chain of circumstances that could allow something like this to happen.

  3. gebrauchshund

    Something about the choice faced by the westbound engineer, and the questions of “how the hell could this happen?”, brought to mind our current presidential campaign.

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