(Midway, New Mexico – April 28, 2015)
A collision of two trains using BNSF locomotives but being operated by the Class II short line Southwestern Railroad Co. occurred early Tuesday morning, at about 6:00 A.M., MDT, on single track, but near a passing side track, and parallel to New Mexico State Highway 2 in the Midway, NM area about 10 miles southeast of Roswell, NM.
It was a head-on collision, and that two crew members involved were casualties, one of whom, Jesse T. Coburn III, 48, of Texico, NM died and the other of whom was flown to a Lubbock, TX hospital with serious injuries. The injured crew member was not identified by name.
Southwestern Railroad and SRR owner-The Western Group Vice President of Operations Bruce Carswell said that one train was headed southbound from Clovis to Carlsbad, NM when it struck a standing, unoccupied train that was facing northbound on the same track.
Prior to New Mexico State Police spokesperson Sgt. Elizabeth Armijo confirming the fatality, Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder said “It’s a serious crash,” adding that “I don’t know whether they failed to get on that (rail siding) or what happened.”
Federal Railroad Administration documents indicate that the track is used by as many as six trains daily at maximum allowable speeds of 45 mph.
NMSP Captain Lance Bateman said as many as 20 freight cars might have derailed, while news media and other photos taken at the scene showed at least three BNSF locomotives derailed but in an upright position.
BNSF spokesman Joe Sloan said that the BNSF locomotives “were being moved between locations,” while Southwestern Railroad General Manager Marc Syring declined to comment when contacted by the Associated Press.
The tragedy represented yet another train accident which could have been prevented by activation of the Positive Train Control (PTC) system that operates through satellite technology that enables trains to be slowed or stopped when human failure to observe signal indications creates a potential collision situation. The system was mandated by Congress following a collision in Chatsworth, California between a passenger-carrying commuter train and a stopped freight train, an accident which killed 25 passengers and train crew and injured over 135 more, in 2008. The legislation, which required a fully-operational PTC system by the end of 2015, has been subject to a possible five-year extension of the deadline as railroad lobbyists argue that the current date cannot be met. Meanwhile, the deadly crashes continue.
The National Transportation Safety Board has had an earlier institution of PTC on its “Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements” each year since the “Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008” was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush.
From Washington, DC, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said the agency would be sending an investigatory team headed by investigator Ted Turpin, and including NTSB Board Member Earl Weener, who would be acting in the role as spokesman for the independent transportation safety agency.
The Southwestern Railroad is one of five short line railroad properties owned by Ogden,UT-based The Western Group.