(Kellogg, Minnesota — February 14, 2014)
The as-yet unidentified driver of a tank truck loaded with propane barely escaped with his life Friday afternoon at about 4:45 P.M. when his vehicle was struck by a Canadian Pacific freight train, exploded, and burned for hours at the dangerous and unguarded crossing of 618th Street and CPR tracks just south of Kellogg, MN.
The collision between the two modes of transport was witnessed by retired salesman Larry Stromness, who lives only 100 yards from the crossing. Although he did not see the actual collision, he heard a loud explosion and, looking out his bedroom window, saw a fireball shooting an approximate 80 feet into the air as the tank part of the vehicle was cast some 50 yards away from the site of the impact.
“It just blew the tank off and pushed the truck around,” Stromness told writer Matthew Stoll of The Post-Bulletin.
The crossing of 618th Street and CP rails sees an average of 28 trains daily, including Amtrak passenger trains, which operate at a top timetable speed of 75 mph. Yet, the only indication that there is a railroad crossing there are the placement of standard, passive railroad cross-buck and highway stop signs, neither of which can possibly give motorists warning of approaching trains that cross the road at an odd angle and with drivers’ views of approaching trains hampered by large earthen berms and foliage. Only properly and accurately working active signalization such as flashing lights, bells and crossing gates can possibly inform drivers that a train is coming.
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 can gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
Firefighters from the Kellogg Fire Dept. and officers of the Wabasha County Sheriff’s Office kept both the public and news media away from the crash site as they allowed the ruptured tank to burn itself out safely, which activity took over four hours to accomplish. In the meantime, some television crews attempting to obtain pertinent video of the conflagration for the evening newscasts, went to a signalized crossing where the train was blocking traffic and filmed flashing lights and lowered crossing gates, falsely implying that the crossing where the accident occurred was protected. Such actions distorted not only the serious potential of the collision and explosion, but gave the viewing public an incorrect picture of how dangerous unguarded crossings are.
The fire was still burning at 8:30 P.M. and Xcel power crews were attempting to re-string power lines which were incinerated by the blast and ensuing fire.