(Dateland, Arizona – April 6, 2015)
Three United States Marines who were in the cab of a USMC tractor-trailer tank truck barely escaped certain death in the inferno that occurred after an eastbound Union Pacific freight train carrying new automobiles literally ripped the tanker trailer from the tractor at what Yuma County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Alfonzo Zavala told reporter James Gilbert of The Yuma Sun was a “marked but uncontrolled” crossing near milepost 61 of U.S. Interstate Highway 8 Monday just before noon. The marines just finished filling the tanker with 5,000 gallons of highly volatile jet fuel
Indeed, the crossing, which leads to “a vehicle and aircraft refueling point” during “training for (a) Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course” according to USMC Air Station Public Affairs Officer Captain Jose M. Negrete, is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates, which can warn motorists of as many as 44 trains daily at a top allowable speed of 79 mph.
It is virtually certain that if equipped with lights and gates this accident would not have happened. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know that lights and gates are the most effective type of protection at railroad crossings. Studies that have been conducted over fifty years ago confirm that lights and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
“There was a large explosion and fire,” noted Zavala, who went on to say that “The front two engines of the train were heavily damaged,” and that the train’s locomotive engineer was transported to Yuma Regional Medical Center with undisclosed, but said to be non-life threatening, injuries.
Captain Donald Pelfrey of the Tacna Fire Dept. said that the blaze took firefighters nearly an hour to extinguish through smothering the flames with foam, but added that “It could have been a lot more devastating,” and that the three marines were “lucky to have escaped unharmed.”
The fire, which could be seen for miles, forced a shutdown and detour of IH-8 for several hours.