(Rockview, Missouri – May 25, 2013)
Seven people were injured early Saturday morning at about 2:30 A.M. when a Union Pacific train collided mid-train with a southbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train hauling scrap metal at the crossing of the two railroads at the small Scott County, MO community of Rockview, MO directly below the overpass of Missouri State Route “M”. The collision caused a large derailment of cars and locomotives of both trains, injuries to the two UPRR crew members, and injury to five occupants of two vehicles crossing both railroads at the Route “M” overpass, which collapsed as derailing railroad cars and locomotives took out a main support pillar of the heavily-used rural highway, shutting traffic down for miles.
The spilled diesel fuels from the damaged locomotives ignited and produced flames that “could be seen for miles”, but were quickly extinguished after the arrival of firefighters from area fire departments, including Chafee and Cape Girardeau, leaving a scene of charred locomotives beneath the remains of the bridge’s pre-stressed, open-deck concrete spans.
Railroad officials offered no answers for this obviously preventable catastrophe, another accident which could have been prevented had the Congressionally-approved and National Transportation Safety Board-advocated “Positive Train Control” system, which railroads have vehemently opposed, been in use. The PTC concept provides a satellite-based override system which stops trains before accidents due to train crew failure can occur. Railroads, with moral support from the Federal Railroad Administration, have fought 2014 implementation of a national PTC network, wanting it pushed five years beyond current legislative requirements for full utilization of the concept. Both BNSF and UPRR suffered fatal train collisions on other parts of their multi-state system during 2012.
The already-overworked NTSB’s rail accident investigation team, just in the process of developing their preliminary research into last Friday’s collision between two Metro-North commuter trains in Connecticut, was dispatched to the Missouri catastrophe to perform similar, independent government agency investigatory duties at the Rockview crash site. Veteran BNSF Spokesman Andy Williams said that derailment cleanup activities would not begin until arrival of the NTSB officials late Saturday.
UPRR Spokesperson of the occasion Calli Hite would not offer any speculation on the cause of the conflagration, stating that it would be determined by officials of the NTSB, saying “We have no indication as to cause of the incident, but that will be handled by the NTSB.” Hite further distanced herself from the discussion by saying “We are fully cooperating with the NTSB, and we have to defer to their timeline.”
The NTSB had, in December, listed national implementation of the PTC program as number one on the agency’s “Wish List” for transportation safety improvements in 2013.
An exact count of how many rail cars and locomotives derailed in Saturday’s accident was still unavailable late Saturday morning, but BNSF officials confirmed that their train was occupying the automatically interlocking crossing, and that three locomotives and 14 freight cars of the 75-car train had already crossed through the intersection, before the UP train, hauling 60 freight cars loaded with automobiles and auto parts bound from Illinois to Texas, plowed into the side of the BNSF train.
The crossing of the main lines of both railroads carries, according to FRA records, a total of as many as 57 trains of both BNSF and UP across the rail crossing daily at top allowable timetable speeds of 55 and 70 mph.
All seven injured parties were transported to St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, MO, where six were treated and released and the seventh admitted in what the hospital termed as “good” condition. No names or associations were released, but SFMC Spokesperson Felecia Blanton said that hospital staff persons were “bracing for the worst” as they watched early, on-line postings of dramatic news coverage of the collision. She added that the aftermath was “a real blessing,” since most of the injuries were minor, the most serious being a bone fracture.
Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter dismissed any speculation of structural failure of the overpass, which was barely 15 years old and in good condition, but which simply could not stand against the impact of multi-ton locomotives and rail cars as they derailed. He added that the potential for numerous casualties was present as “You’re driving down the road and the next thing you know, the bridge is not there. It could have been really bad.”
Ironically, Saturday’s collision was the third rail accident thus far this year in the Rockview area. In April, a BNSF train derailed four loaded covered hoppers on interchange tracks owned jointly by the two railroad companies and adjacent to the Route “M” overpass, while in January, strong, straight-line winds caused the derailment of a Union Pacific train passing through Rockview. Whether or not there was any connection among the three events is unknown.