Head-on crash on BNSF Transcon

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Two BNSF intermodal trains collided head-on early Tuesday morning, June 28, 2016, on the railroad’s busy Chicago-Los Angeles Transcon near Panhandle, Tex., about 25 miles northeast of Amarillo. Three crew members were missing and one was injured in the accident, which created a large fire and forced the evacuation of area residents.

The wreck took place on the Panhandle Subdivision of BNSF’s Kansas Division. The territory is double-track (as is the entire Transcon) and maximum operating speed is 70 mph. The cause of the collision is under investigation by BNSF, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Railroad Administration. Positive Train Control (PTC) has not yet been installed on that section of the railroad.

“BNSF has confirmed that two intermodal trains collided near Panhandle, Tex., at approximately 8:25 a.m. Central Time,” the railroad said in a statement on June 28. “Four BNSF employees were involved in the incident. Local first responders and BNSF personnel were deployed to the scene. By 9:02 a.m., one employee was transported to a local hospital and is being treated. Rescue efforts are under way at the scene with respect to the three other railroad employees involved in the incident. Operating safely is the most important thing we do and our deepest concerns are for our employees and their families right now.

“Our investigation is in the very early stages but based on the limited information we have reviewed, it appears that this is the type of incident that PTC is intended to prevent. This is why we have been aggressively deploying PTC across our network. While sections of the track operated by the eastbound train involved in this accident have PTC installed and are being tested, the section of track where the incident occurred will be [activated] later this year.”

Unofficial information obtained by Railway Age indicates one of the trains involved ran past both an approach and a stop signal.

On Wednesday, June 29, the three missing crew members were presumed dead, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. Emergency personnel at the scene had moved to a recovery operation, DPS Sgt. Dan Buesing said. The surviving crewmember had jumped off the train just before impact and was hospitaliuzed with injuries not considered life-threatening.




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