October 11, 2013
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The driver of a loaded log truck that collided Friday with a sightseeing train carrying 63 passengers and four crewmembers on a scenic leaf-peeping circuit in West Virginia’s mountains was the lone fatality in an accident that injured 23 others, authorities said.
At least six of the injured were hospitalized in serious condition after the accident, which came at the height of fall foliage season in the state’s rugged Appalachian region about 160 miles east of Charleston, officials added.
Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady said two of the train’s passenger cars flipped on their sides after impact at a rail crossing with a mountain highway, the log truck was rendered a “total loss” and the truck driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
The truck driver was not immediately identified and news photographs from the scene at West Virginia’s Cheat Mountain showed large, heavy logs jumbled beside the two toppled train cars amid a chaotic scene of first responders aiding shaken passengers leaving the train.
Brady said the accident occurred at a train crossing on U.S. Route 250 at a bridge on the mountain. The overturned passenger cars lay beside the tracks, roped off with yellow crime scene tape as police, firefighters and others looked on.
“The railroad crossing signals were flashing at the scene. As all emergency personnel arrived, we observed the signals flashing at the time,” Brady said in a taped news conference held with hospital officials who emailed the audio recording to The Associated Press.
“At this juncture of the investigation, it appears that the log truck had run through the crossing signals and struck the passenger cars of the train,” Brady added in the recorded statement emailed by Davis Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Tracy Fath.
Brady also said all of the 63 train passengers and four crewmembers were taken to that hospital in Elkins, several miles distant. Brady didn’t immediately return a message left by AP with a dispatcher at his sheriff’s office.
Fath told AP that 23 people were treated there for injuries and of that number, six were hospitalized in serious condition and two in stable condition. Four of those admitted were transferred to a Morgantown hospital while three were admitted to Davis Memorial, she added.
She declined to elaborate on the nature of the injuries or identify those hurt.
Fath also said 42 others taken from the train by school bus to the hospital were later found to be unharmed, despite mistaken early accounts by an official suggesting dozens of those had suffered lesser injuries.
She said those who weren’t hurt received “comfort care” before leaving the hospital.
The accident was reported at 1:30 p.m. Friday and involved a train owned by the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad train, on an excursion in the region, officials said.
Traffic backed up behind the route, which was closed indefinitely Friday in the area.
Randolph County emergency services director Jim Wise, the first to confirm there was a fatality, said he knew of no previous accident at that crossing in recent memory.
“It was a pretty good impact,” Wise told AP. “The tracks actually go across U.S. 250 there, right on top of the mountain.”
The Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad operates several trains in the area, including the Cheat Mountain Salamander that runs Tuesdays through Saturdays in October on a 6.5-hour trip. The railroad said there were three passenger cars Friday on the 88-mile roundtrip that left Elkins on a route taking passengers to elevations of more than 4,000 feet.
The train travels about 25 mph alongside a boulder-strewn river, crossing a bridge barely wider than the train, rumbling through an 1,800-foot tunnel and then passing an abandoned rail bridge.
A railroad executive did not immediately return calls for comment.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved and the emergency responders working the tragic accident in Randolph County this afternoon,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement.
Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said state Department of Environmental Protection crews were sent to the site to help clean up a large fuel spill. Neither Goodwin nor Wise knew whether the spill came from the truck or the train.