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Train, tractor-trailer wreck injures 13, disrupts Amtrak service

Posted May 13, 2010
Updated May 14, 2010

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— A collision between an Amtrak train and tractor-trailer in Mebane Thursday morning injured 13 people and disrupted train service from Charlotte to New York.

Passengers describe surviving train derailment Passengers describe surviving train derailment

Twelve train passengers and one crew member from train No. 73 from Raleigh to Charlotte were transported to hospitals, Amtrak officials said. None of the injuries were life-threatening and most patients were treated and released Thursday afternoon. One patient was in serious condition at UNC Hospitals, officials said.

The tracks at 5th and E. Center street in Mebane were reopened late Thursday.

Amtrak officials said Thursday's disruptions affected the Piedmont service on trains 73 and 76 between Raleigh and Charlotte and the Carolinian service on trains 79 and 80 between New York and Charlotte. Passengers were being put on alternate transportation between Rocky Mount and Greensboro.

Normal service is expected to resume Friday morning.

Relatives of those involved in the derailment and Amtrak passengers can call 1-800-USA-RAIL for more information.

mebane train Photos: Train, truck collide in Mebane

Police said that a tractor carrying heavy construction equipment was making a turn when it got stuck on the tracks as around 7:45 a.m. as train no. 73, which had 36 passengers on board, approached. State troopers said the driver backed up but got stuck again.

"The arms started coming down, and I just started praying, 'God, please. Move, truck,'" said driver Dawn Clapp who was behind the tractor-trailer.

The train struck the tractor at 70 mph and pushed it for 150 feet, state Department of Transportation officials said. "The backhoe got torn open like a beer can being split open," passenger Rocky Williamson said.

The fuel tanks on the locomotive ruptured, igniting a fire that spread to three coach cars.

 "It sounded like a big boom, big explosion. You could see bolts and stuff coming off the train and onto people's cars," witness Kent Cates said.

"The engine of the train was a ball of fire, just burst into flames," witness Bob Farrar said. "My biggest concern was the people in the train. I just knew they were toast."

"You felt it. You were thrown into the air, crashing into the seat," train passenger Rocky Williamson said.

Passenger Tama Eller recalled that "the smoke and the fire just came all down the windows" as passengers and crew were evacuated from the train.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, look at that fire.' Smoke was billowing up in a big mushroom cloud," Williamson said. "Everybody was hurt. People were crying, panicking."

The tractor driver, Barry Charles Lazaro, of Wake Forest, escaped before impact.

After being treated for their injuries, passengers were loaded on buses to different points in Charlotte and Raleigh.

train wreck mebane Raw: Sky 5 flies over train derailment

Lazaro said the truck, called a low boy, had an equipment problem, police said. The truck is registered to Lazaro Contracting Inc., which has the same address as Lazaro's residence.

There was no word on any charges.

Heavy equipment was called in to remove the train, and hazmat crews also cleaned up about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel that had leaked from the train onto the tracks.

Crews with the state Department of Natural Resources were on site Thursday and plan to be there for several days testing the contaminated soil as a result of the diesel spill, said Dave Leonard of the Alamance County EMS

The 5th Street crossing in downtown Mebane has seen six previous train accidents since 1975, most recently on Feb. 24 when a minivan driver drove around the crossing's warning gates and stalled on the tracks.

The only fatal accident at the crossing was recorded in 2005, when 77-year-old Melba Satterfield died when an Amtrak train struck her car. The accident report showed Satterfield stopped on the crossing. Investigators noted that all of the crossing's safety equipment was in working order.

After a 1987 crash, the DOT installed more warning signs at the intersection. The crossing has four gates that are activated by passing trains at least 20 seconds before the train comes through.

89 Comments

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  • Road-wearier May 13, 7:45 p.m.

    "No, but it WAS in a congested area, and this IS the major north-south artery for Mebane. Do trains run 70 mph through downtown Charlotte or Raleigh? Just curious."

    Go over to Wilson in the evening and watch the Auto Train come thru the center of town at 70 mph. Watch the freights at 50 mph, dozens of them every 24 hours. There are literally hundreds of towns the size of Mebane in this country that see many more trains moving every bit as fast and somehow survive every day. Mebane is not unique in size or train speed. It matters not that I have never driven a truck. That simply doesn't matter. What does matter is that this particular truck driver made a gross error in judgement and nearly killed a number people. After getting stuck the first time (read the story) he should have gotten assistance in choosing another route.

  • irishale May 13, 7:30 p.m.

    "It's amazing to me that no one was killed "---REV. RB

    You said it. Downtown Mebane is a very dense part of town. Especially at rush hour. Absolutely amazing. This accident took place within sight of the town hall, where the library was (and may still be, I don't know), and @ 1 block from the police station. You just had a train, running 70 mph that hit a 30-40 ton truck in the middle of downtown at rush hour and no one was killed.

    It's a miracle.

  • Spirit Warrior Woman - Rev. RB May 13, 7:01 p.m.

    unaffiliated - "That would be ideal, but bridges cost a whole lot more money than grade crossings, and we all know how much complaining there is already about taxes being too high."

    Our taxes don't pay for that. The railroads do, and you wouldn't believe the red tape a city, county or state have to go through to get them to do that...usually several people have to die first.

    God bless.

    RB

  • Spirit Warrior Woman - Rev. RB May 13, 6:59 p.m.

    It's amazing to me that no one was killed because that looked like a big steam shovel, not a backhoe, but whatever it was - it was BIG...not a little jitney.

    Thank God everyone will be alright.

    God bless.

    RB

  • irishale May 13, 6:09 p.m.

    "momme and irishale

    The only time that a road and train tracks/railroads should cross or pass is vertically… Never shall a road and tracks comes across the same path, as if they cross in the same area there will surely be a crash." --timothypgillespie

    I think I sorta covered that. You can't bridge the roads over the RR in Mebane, not enough room. You can't really tunnel the roads under the RR, same problem. You could elevate the RR through Mebane (Chicago has the "L" or something, right?)... but boy, wouldn't that be ugly.

    I vote they tunnel the RR under the existing RR bed all the way through Mebane :). But I don't count since I don't live there anymore.

    Meanwhile... that old physics lesson, you remember, the faster an object goes, the more force it impacts with. Slower trains=less carnage when a collision occurs.

  • unaffiliated_voter May 13, 5:49 p.m.

    "They should elevate one or the other build a bridge over the tracks or under/over pass"

    That would be ideal, but bridges cost a whole lot more money than grade crossings, and we all know how much complaining there is already about taxes being too high. The history of this crossing certainly seems to me to justify a bridge, but where will the money come from?

    I was hoping the stimulus money would have been used for things like this, but apparently making sure the big banks made enough that they could pay out huge bonuses was more important.

  • timothypgillespie May 13, 4:52 p.m.

    ....continued from previous post.

    NTSB, NSDOT ROAD and RAIL DIVSIONS need to wake up bring the infrastructure up to speed with the times…. If the roads and rails had trestles, bridges or over/under passes… Then it would be less likely that a car or truck would be crossing the tracks and being hit or run over by a passenger or freight train. If the standards for Rail and Roads were followed in the best interest of the public (all of us)… Then they would see in areas with x numbers of vehicles and/or x numbers of population of people… They should elevate one or the other build a bridge over the tracks or under/over pass as they have done in most major metropolitan, suburban and even rural areas in other parts of the state and country.

  • timothypgillespie May 13, 4:51 p.m.

    As many know in Mebane it is not that small of a town anymore... So goes that for many of the areas we all live in.... The area has outgrown the infrastructure many times over… The local, county and state government need to tell CSX, AMTRAK, Norfolk Southern, and NCRAILROAD that the crossings need be eliminates as they are elsewhere. This is a problem not only in Mebane but also in all of our backyards, towns and cities around the state and country… The local Mebane Officials (Town Planners, Developers and Leaders) need to see the pattern and have a plan to have the infrastructures (Road and Rail) to coexist for commerce…. Nevertheless, They and all of us for that matter need to see the bigger picture to eliminate the potential for disaster… No matter how quaint having a passenger or freight train coming through your town it is an accident waiting to happen… I am one for eliminating the crossings!

  • timothypgillespie May 13, 4:36 p.m.

    Capt Mercury I agree with you and have traveled in Europe and Middle East and Far East and in some cases they have elimated the crossing of roads all togethers except near stations or low lying areas like docks, piers, and beach areas.

  • timothypgillespie May 13, 4:34 p.m.

    momme and irishale

    The only time that a road and train tracks/railroads should cross or pass is vertically…
    Never shall a road and tracks comes across the same path, as if they cross in the same area there will surely be a crash.

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