(Manson, Iowa – March 19, 2014)
Residents of a small northern Iowa community came mere inches from a major explosion Wednesday afternoon at about 5:55 PM. when an eastbound Canadian National freight train struck the rear sector of a loaded southbound propane tank truck at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of 15th Street and CNR railroad tracks in the Calhoun County community of Manson, IA.
Iowa State Patrol Trooper Mark Anderson told news writer Joe Sutter of The Fort Dodge Messenger that, according to witnesses, the truck first stopped at the tracks, and then proceeded across, where the train struck it. ”Luckily, the train hit the back and not the middle,” observed Trooper Anderson.
The force of the collision knocked the propane truck 180 degrees, landing it on its left side. Manson firefighters detected a propane leak, triggering an immediate visit from the Calhoun County Hazardous Materials Response team, whose personnel plugged the leak.
The driver, identified by other witnesses as Rick Smith of Manson, was transported to Unity Point-Trinity Regional Medical Center, where he was admitted for treatment of undisclosed injuries.
Witness Duane Lyerly, who lives on 15th Street just north of the railroad crossing, told The Messenger’s Sutter that at that time of day, and with the driver’s position of approach, “The sun would have been in his eyes.”
Indeed, the railroad tracks come towards 15th Street at an acute angle from the west, making approaching trains extremely difficult to see, especially for southbound trucks, as the train seems to emerge from behind the truck’s passenger side and loaded tank.
The 15th Street crossing is lacking any active warning devices, such as lights and gates. It is virtually certain that lights and gates would have prevented this incident. Both Canadian National and Operation Lifesaver know 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%.
According to Federal Railroad Administration documentation, four CNR freight trains cross the 15th Street intersection daily via two tracks at a top permissible speed of 40 mph.