(Wills Point, Texas – August 23, 2012)
A gasoline tank truck driver and a Union Pacific train crew, as well as the residents of the east Texas community of Wills Point, are all lucky to be alive after the collision at 1:30 A.M. Thursday morning between the UP train and the tank truck, loaded with 8,000 gallons of gasoline. The collision occurred at a dangerous, unguarded grade crossing near downtown Wills Point, causing explosion and a monstrous fireball, which resulted in evacuations of all residents and businesses within a two-block radius.
The tanker, carrying nearly $30,000 worth of gasoline (at current prices), was using the Hatch/Lybrand Street crossing off of Commerce Street after another train was stopped and blocking nearly all the community’s crossings. The truck became stuck on the dangerous, unguarded crossing and was almost immediately struck by a second train of which the truck driver had no advanced warning.
Firefighters from eight communities responded to the blaze as police evacuated at least 50 residents from the scene of the conflagration.
The crossing of the two streets makes two 90-degree turns, one on each side of the track, making passage extremely difficult and having the crossing not marked makes it potentially dangerous for truck passage.
The 18-wheeler tank truck was owned by the Love’s convenience store chain, which operates more than 280 retail stores in 39 states.
The UPRR/Hatch/Lybrand Street crossing is transversed by nearly two dozen trains daily, including Amtrak, at speeds as high as 75 mph.
Wills Point Mayor Deby Frye vented her frustration with the railroad company, saying “This is the nightmare I’ve discussed with them [Union Pacific] for at least two years,” emphasizing that UP hasn’t posted any warning signs at the Lybrand crossing, the site of the collision.
Union Pacific has a passing track (siding) that causes extensive delays and hampers emergency response when stopped trains block most, if not all, of the city’s streets. “We have fire and ambulance on one side, police on the other,” complained Mayor Frye. “It’s an ongoing problem. As recently as Wednesday morning, I discussed it with the Union Pacific public relations person. All crossings in town were blocked by this one, and you have 3,000 people trying to cross one intersection,” she continued.
“I want to see the siding moved to the west of town, and that was promised eight years ago,” concluded the mayor.
A Union Pacific spokesperson said they were working on it.