Seven injured in Rockview train crash

Sunday, May 26, 2013
The Route M overpass at Rockview, Mo., collapsed onto railroad tracks after a westbound Union Pacific train T-boned a southbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe train Saturday morning. (Fred Lynch)

CHAFFEE, Mo. -- National Transportation Safety Board officials said an investigation into the cause of a cargo train collision that partially collapsed an overpass in the Chaffee-Rockview, Mo., area will take four to seven days. Seven people were injured, though none seriously.

The collision occurred at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday when a Union Pacific train hit a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train at a rail intersection near Route M and County Road 210. Derailed rail cars then hit columns supporting the Highway M overpass, causing it to buckle.

Scott County Sheriff's Department dispatcher Clay Slipis said several train cars derailed and hit a pillar of the Route M overpass, bringing it partially down. Two cars were on the overpass when it fell. The highway was shut down for about 8 miles between Scott City and Chaffee.

New vehicles were being transported on the Union Pacific train when it collided with a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train at Rockview, Mo. Saturday, May 25, 2013. (Fred Lynch)

Seven people -- five in the vehicles and a UP train conductor and engineer -- were taken to Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau. All seven had been treated and released by early Saturday afternoon, hospital spokeswoman Felecia Blanton said.

"You're driving down the road and the next thing you know the bridge is not there. ... It could have been really bad," Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said.

Firefighters Adam Eftink and Anthony Odum with the Sikeston Department of Public Safety help to extinguish flames at the site where two trains collided near Rockview, Mo. on Saturday, May 25, 2013. (Provided/Michael O'Brien)

The crash derailed about two dozen rail cars hauling scrap metal, automobiles and auto parts, tossing them into the overpass' support columns.

Several train cars were derailed when a Union Pacific train and Burlington Northern Santa Fe collided near Rockview, Mo. Saturday, May 25, 2013. The cars were pushed in to the supports of the Route M overpass causing it to collapse. (Fred Lynch)

The overpass was about 15 years old and in good condition but couldn't withstand the impact of the rail cars, Walter said.

Two 40-foot sections of the overpass buckled; the two cars on the roadway were sent into the edges of the collapsed sections. A diesel fire broke out in one of the locomotives after the collision, but was quickly extinguished, Walter said.

Blanton said when she heard about the crash, she immediately went online and saw video footage of the scene and was bracing for the worst. She said it was "a real blessing" the injuries were relatively minor, the most serious being a fracture.

This scene just east of the Route M overpass shows several derailed train cars near Rockview, Mo. Saturday, May 25, 2013. (Fred Lynch)

"If you look at the pictures, they're very dramatic, and there are no serious injuries," she said. "So it's amazing."

Walter said Deputy Justin Wooten was among the first at the scene and pulled the two Union Pacific employees out of the wrecked engine, which became lodged next to the train's second engine. That engine began burning after the crash.

"We're very fortunate he was there," Walter said. He said all seven people injured were already out of the wreckage when he arrived about 15 minutes after the crash was reported.

"People were talking; they were coherent. They understood what was happening," Walter said.

The cars on the overpass "took a really bad hit" when they collided with the bridge sections, but "they stayed on all four tires and they just hit and landed and that was it," he said.

The accident came more than a week after a commuter train derailment in Connecticut that injured 70 people and disrupted service for days. That accident involved a railroad used by tens of thousands of commuters north of New York City.

One of the two vehicles involved in the train crash is seen on the Route M overpass near Rockview, Mo. Saturday, May 25, 2013. Five people were injured and taken to a hospital. (Fred Lynch)

In Washington state last week, a bridge collapsed when a truck driver's load bumped against the steel framework.

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said while the investigations into both collapses are in the early stages "there is no similarity" between the Missouri accident and the bridge collapse in Washington, which sent two vehicles and three people into the chilly water.

He noted that the Missouri bridge was rated "good" after it was last inspected in February.

"This was not because of any lack of integrity of the bridge in Southeast Missouri, but because of a train that derailed and had a bunch of rail cars slamming around, which knocked down a pier, which allowed the bridge to collapse," he said.

"If you just look at the facts, there is no relationship other than some external object caused each of these bridges" to collapse, he said.

BNSF spokesman Andy Williams said the 75-car BNSF train, which was carrying scrap metal, was hit by the Union Pacific train about eight cars back from the locomotive. He said 12 cars on the BNSF train derailed.

"Our crew was not impacted," Williams said.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Calli Hite said the 60-car UP train was carrying primarily automobiles or auto parts from Illinois to Texas. She said about a dozen UP railcars derailed.

Hite said the NTSB will determine what caused the accident, and that there was no immediate estimate on the amount of damage to the roadway or the rail cars.

"We have no indication as to cause of the incident, but that will be handled by the NTSB," Hite said.

At a news briefing Saturday afternoon, Robert Sumwalt of the NTSB said investigators would be collecting "perishable" information that would be analyzed later. He would not speculate on the cause of the collision.

Sumwalt said NTSB investigation will include routine testing of railroad employees for drugs and alcohol, testing the track and nearby rail signals and reviewing video footage from the front of the train in an effort to determine the likely cause. The NTSB also will review the bridge's design.

"Two trains should not be at the same place at the same time," Sumwalt said.

When asked if the incident would be looked at in connection with two other derailments that have occurred in the same area within the last six months, Sumwalt said the NTSB would first investigate factors related to Saturday morning's crash. If systemic issues were revealed, they will be addressed, he said.

An organizational meeting including the Federal Railroad Administration, Missouri Department of Transporation and the NTSB was planned for Saturday evening, Williams said.

Carol Gribler lives directly across from the collision site on Grace Road and was awakened by the crash. She said she immediately thought it was another derailment, but when she saw the wreckage, she thought "Oh, my God, this one's horrible."

"I heard a woman crying, and it sounded like a little child, too." she said. "I'm just glad everybody's OK."

Gribler is used to the sounds of trains, and didn't notice whether a whistle blew.

"It really sounded like a really strong high wind. And then, the crunch of the metal." Gribler said. "I'm just hoping this is the last one."

Scott County Sheriff Department's Captain Kenneth Kinder advised motorists to avoid the Rockview area.

Pertinent address:

Grace Road, Chaffee, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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