Gas Tanker Hit by Freight Train, Explodes

No injuries reported after tanker truck, freight train collide

No one was injured when a tanker truck carrying gasoline exploded after being hit by a freight train in Wills Point early Thursday morning.

Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said the crash happened around 1:30 a.m. when a Love's fuel tanker carrying up to 8,000 gallons of gasoline was struck by a Union Pacific freight train at state Highway 80, east of Farm-to-Market Road 47. 

The sheriff said a train was stopped on the tracks, blocking most of the intersections in town, so the driver of the tanker truck took a side road to get around the blocked intersections.

The truck driver ended up on a road that wasn't designed to handle the size of the tanker truck and it ended up getting stuck on the tracks.

A short time later an oncoming Union Pacific train slammed into the tanker, causing an explosion.

Espinoza said the truck driver jumped from the cab moments before the train hit the rig.

Police chief Scott Johnson said the train had been going at a low speed, saw the emergency on the tracks, but just couldn’t stop in time to avoid the collision.

The truck driver and two men on the train, a conductor and engineer, all escaped without injury.

Mayor Deby Frye said she’s grateful this wasn’t a deadly disaster, but is frustrated. She said Union Pacific hasn’t posted any warning signs at the Lybrand crossing where the crash happened and that she’s also been working for two years to try to get the railroad to stop “siding,” stopping one train to allow another to pass, in the middle of town.

“This is the nightmare I’ve discussed with them for at least two years," said Frye. “I want to see the siding moved to the west of town, that was promised 8 years ago."

Frye told NBC 5 the stopped trains cut the town in half for as much as 45 minutes at time.

“We have fire and ambulance on one side, police on the other.  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,” Frye said.

A Union Pacific spokesperson said the company is working to lessen the impact on the town.

Espinoza said the train was hauling containers with mixed freight and nothing hazardous. However, with the smoke from the explosion and fuel leak from the tanker truck, nearby homes were evacuated briefly and residents were sent to a shelter at the First Baptist Church in Wills Point.

The HAZMAT team from Fort Worth will help in the clean-up process. Multiple fire departments from Van Zandt and Kaufman counties assisted in battling the fire. It took crews several hours to access the bridge building material in the train cars to fully put out the fire.  More than nine hours after the crash, the cars are still smoldering.

The police chief expects the tracks will be shut down for at least a day as the clean-up continues.

Union Pacific is based in Omaha, Neb.

NBC 5's Frank Heinz contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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