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Trains collide in W.Va.

April 29, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - A quiet Thursday evening off Gardner's Lane south of Shepherdstown was shattered when a train plowed into the rear of another train sitting along a Norfolk Southern line, causing an locomotive to tumble off the tracks and leaving another engine resting on the rear of a car of the first train, officials said.

About 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from one of the engines, and a fire official at the scene said he believes most of the fuel was absorbed into the ground.

It is not clear why the trains collided, Lt. Craig Simpson of the Shepherdstown Fire Department said. Simpson said he assumes West Virginia State Police and investigators from Norfolk Southern would be investigating the crash, which was reported shortly before 7 p.m.

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A man who was riding in one of the engines of the train that struck the rear of the first train was taken to City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., but his injuries did not appear to be life-threatening, said Doug Pittinger, ambulance chief for the Shepherdstown Fire Department.

The accident occurred near the intersection of Gardner's Lane and Morgan Grove Road, which is about one mile south of Shepherdstown.

Karen Barrett, whose home is next to the crash scene, said she and her son Jason were getting ready to go to the store when the accident occurred.

Barrett said the train that struck the other train was coming down the tracks and blowing its horn constantly. Barrett said her son remarked that he thought the train wasn't going to be able to stop for the first one.

"By George, just (when) he said that, it hit right in the back of it," Barrett said. "I just wanted to jump out of the car because I didn't know if it was going to blow up or what."

Donna Bartley was next door with her 2-year-old nephew, who had noticed the first train sitting on the tracks. Bartley said her nephew Jack likes to watch trains, and the first one had been stopped for about 20 minutes.

Bartley said she looked out and saw the second train coming down the tracks.

Bartley said she thought to herself, "Man, I'm not seeing what I'm seeing."

When the train struck the back of the first one, "it was like watching an accordion," Bartley said.

Diesel fuel started pouring out of one of the engines, and sparks were flying, Bartley said.

"It was like a river of red," she said.

One man walked by Barrett's house limping and two other men jumped off the back of the train that struck the first one, Barrett said.

Barrett said the man who was limping told her he was OK and that he was going to check on some other men on the train.

The train that struck the rear of the stopped train appeared to be a work train, Simpson said. One of the cars on the train said "track maintenance service" on its side.

The train that was struck was carrying plastics and mixed freight, Simpson said. It extended about a half-mile to the rear of Morgan's Grove Park, Simpson said.

Area residents said there is a pulloff area for trains nearby and it is common for trains to pull into the area to let other ones pass. It is a busy line, and sometimes 10 trains a day or more pass through, Barrett said.

Reporters and other onlookers were kept away from the wreckage because it was making creaking sounds and there was a fear it could fall over, Simpson said.

Simpson said he was not sure who would clean up the debris, adding it could be a long process.

"They will have to get equipment in there and large cranes," Simpson said.

The area where the diesel fuel spilled probably will have to be dug out, Simpson said.

Besides Shepherdstown, emergency crews from the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Services, the Jefferson County Ambulance Authority and Sharpsburg responded. Hazardous materials units from Berkeley and Washington counties also responded, Simpson said.

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