(Callaway, Minnesota – March 24, 2016)
Most of the 205 residents of the small Becker County, MN town of Callaway were being cared for by American Red Cross and Salvation Army emergency relief forces after a Canadian Pacific train struck a semi-trailer truck loaded with explosive, flammable propane (liquefied petroleum) gas at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of 280th Street and CP railroad tracks Thursday afternoon at about 12:25 P.M., CDT.
The train, one of the daily average of a half dozen that cross 280th Street at a maximum allowable speed of 40 mph according to statistical information obtained from the Federal Railroad Administration’s railroad crossing inventory website, was travelling from the Twin Cities and was bound for Canada when it struck the 18-wheeler, removing its trailer, which Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander confirmed was hauling “a substantial amount” of propane, rupturing the tank and derailing both the locomotive as well as seven of the railroad freight cars. Two railroad employees were taken to Essentia Health St. Mary’s in Detroit Lakes, MN, about 12 miles south of the accident scene where a huge fireball erupted about 10:20 P.M., nearly 10 hours after the collision.
Although visibly shaken, the unidentified truck driver refused medical treatment at the scene.
Law Enforcement authorities, including the Minnesota State Patrol, the Detroit Lakes and White Earth police departments, and the Becker County Sheriff’s Office, were forced to close several miles of U.S. Highway 59 in addition to the evacuation. Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow also indicated that the spreading flames posed an even greater danger to the huge propane storage tank sitting less than 200 yards away at the Callaway Grain Elevator complex.
Despite the fact that vehicle traffic crosses the road/rail intersection, including a pair of school buses, the crossing is not equipped with any active warning devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. Both Canadian 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%.
“It’s a scary situation,” 69-year-old local beauty salon operator Carol Tungesvick told Fargo, ND Forum reporters Adrian Glass-Moore and Rick Abbott as she described the events that took place. “I was working and one of my customers says she had heard there might have been a derailment down by the elevator. Well, then we got concerned!” She subsequently received a call from her son, who lives just outside of town and found his highway pathway to picking up his mother after her work, saying “You have to get out, Mom — Right now!”
Resident were still being kept away from their homes Friday while firefighters from at least 15 surrounding communities fought the flames and attempted to halt their spread. The displaced residents, business and home owners were anticipating the possibility of being allowed to return home Good Friday afternoon, however.
CP Rail spokesman Andy Cummings told KSTP Channel 5 Eyewitness News Reporter Jennie Lissarrague reporter that “We will be investigating the incident with the focus on how the vehicle came to be on the track.”
So widespread was the publicity surrounding the potentially disastrous accident that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton announced he would be interrupting his Easter weekend to visit the stricken northwest Minnesota town Saturday. Governor Dayton stated he planned an on-site meeting with Callaway community members, local officials and representatives of the Canadian Pacific Railway.