IN THE LINE OF DUTY

G.D. Shelby

A BLE member was killed and three other train crew members were injured in a fiery head-on collision between two Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains near Clarendon, Texas, on May 28.

Brother G.D. Shelby, 61, was killed when the westbound freight train on which he was the engineer collided with an eastbound coal train about two miles west of Clarendon. Brother Shelby was a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, joining BLE Division 871 in Slaton, Texas, on Sept. 1, 1989.

Brother Shelby is survived by his wife, Ann; a daughter who lives in Lubbock, Texas, and a son who lives in Finland.

Following the accident, BLE International President Don M. Hahs extended deepest sympathies to Brother Shelby's family and friends. He also ordered the BLE flag atop Brotherhood headquarters in downtown Cleveland to be flown at half mast for three days after the accident to honor the memory of Brother Shelby.

Brother Shelby is the second BLE member killed in the line of duty this year.

Witnesses said the death count would almost certainly have been higher, but bystanders and rescue personnel dug conductor Bruce Patterson, 57, out from beneath a burning coal car. He sustained serious injuries and was hospitalized after the crash.

The two other crew members - Rodney Torres, the 34-year-old conductor of the freight train, and Ronald R. Gordon, the 51-year-old engineer of the coal train - were also injured in the accident. Brother Gordon is a member of BLE Division 574 in Amarillo, Texas. He joined the BLE on Dec. 1, 1976.

Rodney Stutes of the BLE's Safety Task Force investigated the crash, along with members of the National Transportation Safety Board. Among other items, both parties studied and reviewed downloads of locomotives' event recorders. However, it will be months before the investigation comes to a conclusion.

The accident happened about 9 a.m. on a single-track stretch of railway. The coal train was headed from Wyoming to Texas, while the freight train was headed to California from Kansas.

Witnesses said the impact sounded like thunder, and the resulting fireball generated enough heat that it could be felt from almost a mile away. The momentum of the two trains, both more than a mile long, caused massive damage to the locomotives.

The freight train weighed 5,546 tons, while the coal train weighed in at 15,843 tons.

The force of the impact crushed the leading locomotives on the two trains and tossed around the cars like toys. One of the locomotives was ripped away from the chassis and pushed back from the wheels, while another was tossed on its side. It quickly ignited.

The derailing cars ripped up the tracks, pushing one 20-foot-long section up through a coal car, leaving the track sticking straight up into the air.

The accident derailed 22 coal cars, including about a dozen that were neatly stacked side-by-side by the force of the impact. Three of the freight cars were derailed as well.

Rescue crews from nearly a dozen local towns rushed to the area and found the accident scene covered in flames.

"It was just chaos," said Clarendon Fire Chief Delbert Robertson.

(The Amaraillo Globe-News contributed to this report.)

 

© 2002 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers