RACINE, Mo. -- Workers spent the early morning hours Monday building an earthen dam while others set up absorbent booms across a Newton County creek in an effort to stop diesel fuel released by a train collision, the Joplin Globe reports.

A train heading west plowed into the midsection of an eastbound train on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks a quarter-mile south of Racine shortly before 11:30 p.m. Sunday, emergency officials said.

The wreck caused a few thousand gallons of diesel fuel to spill into Lost Creek, which feeds the headwaters of Grand Lake in Oklahoma.

The train heading east was pulling onto a side track a few feet east of the Route CC overpass to allow the other train through on the main line when the smashup occurred, said Gary Roark, emergency management director for Newton County.

"Obviously, the westbound train didn't get stopped in time," Roark said.

No one was injured in the wreck, which caused two of the three locomotives at the head of the westbound train to overturn and nine empty flatcars of the second train to derail.

Steve Forsberg, director of public affairs for Burlington Northern, said each train had an engineer and a conductor on board.

The lead locomotive of the train that was headed west came to rest on its side on the northern slope of the tracks' embankment alongside the creek.

"I understand that just before the point of impact, the crew stepped down into the nose of the cab, which helped protect them," Forsberg said.

The second locomotive of the westbound train also left the tracks and landed on its side on the south slope of the embankment.

The Seneca Fire Department was the first to arrive at the scene. The Redings Mill and Neosho fire departments and an environmental cleanup crew from Environmental Works of Springfield were called in once the spill was detected. Roark said both toppled locomotives' fuel tanks ruptured, spilling about 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the creek. He said authorities believe about 200 gallons of motor oil also entered the stream.

A decision was made early Monday to build an earthen dam three miles downstream at Wela Park in an effort to contain the fuel.

Operators of a bulldozer from the Seneca Special Road District and a backhoe from King Backhoe Service in Seneca spent most of the night building the dam. "Our first one washed out," Jimmy King said. "We had to put in one with bigger culverts."

King said the dam was finished about an hour before daylight Monday. John Rode, environmental field technician with Environmental Works, said no diesel fuel had made it as far as Wela Park by 11:30 a.m. Monday.

"We've not seen any product here yet," Rode said. "But this is just where we're staging Custer's last stand. It's not going to get any farther than this." Cleanup workers had absorbent booms strung out along the creek between the crash site and the park.

Rick Horton, fisheries management biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said he did not see any impact on aquatic life.

"It will probably be three or four days before we would see anything though," Horton said.

He said it takes that long for diesel fuel, which is lighter than water, to collect on the bottom of a stream, where it might harm fish.

There was some discrepancy in reports of how much fuel escaped into the creek. While Roark placed it around 5,000 gallons, Forsberg said the railroad's best estimate was 3,000 to 3,500 gallons.

Horton said he was told by a railroad employee that just one of the locomotives' tanks actually ruptured.

Rode said it was his understanding that the two tanks had a maximum combined capacity of 6,000 gallons. He said, however, he did not believe either tank had completely emptied into the creek, and it was uncertain how much they contained at the time of the crash.

Forsberg said the cause of the accident remains under investigation.

He said one of the trains was bound for Tulsa, Okla., from Memphis, Tenn. The other was running from Pittsburg, Kan., to Birmingham, Ala.

He declined to identify the engineers involved, citing company policy on train accidents in which no injury or fatality is involved.

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January 17, 2001


2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers