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Three workers presumed dead after Texas freight train collision

Published 29/06/2016

Three crew members were missing and one was injured after a head-on train collision in Panhandle, Texas (Sean Steffen/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)
Three crew members were missing and one was injured after a head-on train collision in Panhandle, Texas (Sean Steffen/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)

Three missing workers are presumed dead after two freight trains collided head-on in Texas.

Emergency personnel at the scene of the collision, about 25 miles north-east of Amarillo, have moved to a recovery operation, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) said.

Each train had a two-member crew. One man jumped in the moments before the crash and remained in hospital with non life-threatening injuries.

The two BNSF Railway freight trains were on the same track when they collided, triggering a fireball and causing containers and carriages to tumble onto one another in a pile-up. The wreckage continued to smoulder on Wednesday as crews worked to remove the charred carriages.

One train had earlier stopped in Amarillo to refuel for its trip to Chicago, and that diesel fuel contributed to a fire that burned into the night.

DPS Sgt Dan Buesing said: "You have two engines on each train with fuel and the eastbound train had stopped in the Amarillo yard and may have had extra fuel added for the trip out east." The westbound train was heading to Los Angeles.

Freight carriages and containers were derailed and strewn about 400 yards from the collision site just outside the town of Panhandle, Sgt Buesing said. Floodlights were brought in overnight to aid emergency workers trying to quell the flames and start the search for the three crew members, he said.

Both trains carried stacked containers of consumer goods, such as paper products, clothing, television sets and computers.

It is not clear how fast the trains were travelling when they collided, but the speed limit in that area is 70 mph and BNSF spokesman Joe Faust said they were "travelling at less than track speed". It also was not clear why the trains were on the same track.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said the NTSB has opened an investigation, and the Federal Railroad Administration said it has investigators on site.

BNSF has pledged to meet a 2018 federal deadline to adopt technology, called positive train control or PTC, that relies on GPS, wireless radio and computers to monitor train positions and automatically slow or stop trains that are in danger of colliding, derailing due to excessive speed or about to enter track where crews are working or that is otherwise off limits. At least three freight railways have said they will need an extension to 2020.

Mr Faust said the collision is the type of accident PTC can prevent and that BNSF is "aggressively" pursuing it "across our network".

"While sections of the track operated by the eastbound train involved in this accident have PTC installed and are being tested, the section of track where the incident occurred will be installed later this year," he said.


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