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BNSF train stops just in the nick of time

(The following story by Paul Walsh appeared on the Star Tribune website on August 13, 2010.)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — A pickup truck went out of control at a busy Coon Rapids intersection late Thursday morning, narrowly missed an electrical transformer and ended up on railroad tracks as a freight train approached, police said.

The southbound train, within sight of the pickup, came to a halt with less than a minute to spare, police Sgt. John Stahnke said.

"Another 25 seconds and the train would've hit the truck, likely derailed and taken out the Round Lake Boulevard bridge," Stahnke said.

Police suspect that the pickup's driver, a 56-year-old man, had a medical problem before losing control of his vehicle sometime after 11 a.m., Stahnke said.

The train stopped about 200 yards from the truck, said Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), which owns the tracks. The train was made up of two locomotives and 46 cars hauling various freight, McBeth said.

The force of the pickup "moved the southbound tracks about 6 inches," bringing train traffic to a halt in the area near Main Street and Round Lake Boulevard, Stahnke said.

McBeth said about 25 feet of track was "knocked out of alignment." BNSF workers repaired the site, and the line reopened at 4:45 p.m. Thursday.

That line is also used by the Northstar Commuter Rail, which connects Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis and has stops in between. Northstar runs south in the morning and north starting late in the afternoon.

Stahnke said the incident unfolded when the pickup driver hit a minivan in front of him on Main Street, crossed oncoming traffic on Round Lake Boulevard and headed down an embankment.

The pickup smashed through a fence that surrounds an Xcel Energy electrical transformer and ended up on the tracks.

If the truck had hit the transformer, "there would've been a fireball and people would've been dead immediately," Stahnke said.

The pickup driver was taken to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, and no other injuries were reported, the sergeant said.

Friday, August 13, 2010

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