Sunday, February 18, 2001

Failed light clue to fatal train wreck

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKLIN TWP. — A prominent clue has emerged in the investigation of the two-train crash that left a Cincinnati-area man dead and two other engineers critically injured.

This CSX engine was partially buried after ...
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this locomotive hit it from behind.
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(Tony Jones photos)
        A red light on the rear of the train that was struck reportedly was not flashing as it should have been, an investigator said.

        George E. Cochran, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said a third train that passed by had reported the problem via radio before the crash happened around 2 a.m. Saturday.

        That clue “is likely to be a significant factor” in the probe, Gary Wollenhaupt, CSX spokesman, said Saturday evening, as crews continued to clear away wreckage estimated at $1 million.

        But he said the cause of the Warren County crash, which derailed two locomotives and three rail cars, may not be determined for weeks.

        A similar rear-end train wreck happened on Labor Day in Northside without causing injuries.

        Saturday, David J. Wund, 35, a CSX pilot engineer, was helping to familiarize two other engineers with a route. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

        CSX engineers Harry Everingham, 46, of Dublin, and Terry Stover, 45, of Columbus, were injured. Both were listed in critical condition Saturday night at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, a hospital spokeswoman said.

        Officials said they didn't know which of the three men was operating the engine at the time of the crash.

        Investigators were downloading information from the locomotives' “event recorders,” Mr. Cochran said. Similar to the so-called “black boxes” that airplanes carry, the event recorders take 24 different readings, such as the locomotive's throttle position and speed, he said.

        As of Saturday evening, this much was known:

        With 92 hopper cars full of iron ore pellets, a southbound CSX train was on its way from Chicago to AK Steel in Middletown.

        After that train pulled aside to allow a northbound train to pass, personnel on the northbound train “radioed that the rear-end device was not flashing” on the iron-laden train, Mr. Cochran said.

        A little later, a second southbound CSX train, carrying 47 carloads of automobiles from a Marysville manufacturing plant to Cincinnati, struck the rear of the first train.

        Two iron-laden cars from the first train — weighing a combined total of 260 tons — were derailed. Those cars, mangled and barely recognizable, toppled near the striking train's two locomotives. The front locomotive, carrying the three engineers, landed on its side on the southeast side of the tracks; rescuers had to break the windshield to free the men.

        A car from the second train, carrying at least 16 automobiles, fell onto an embankment on the tracks' northwest side.

        The locomotive pulling the iron ore was 4,600 feet ahead of the cars that were hit; people inside that locomotive “just felt a slight bump,” Mr. Cochran said.

        Meanwhile, inside the Twin Creek fire station right in front of the tracks, medics Randy Oney and Kevin Grathwohl slept undisturbed as the iron-ore train passed.

        Seconds later, a thunderous “bang” jarred the men awake; the impact shook their tiny building.

        Alarms sounded and lights flashed, alerting the medics that they were being dispatched just a block away.

        “A lady was running around in her nightgown saying, "There's a train in my yard!'” said Mr. Grathwohl.

        In the darkness, the medics shined a spotlight on the wrecked locomotive. It was jammed into the dirt a few feet from an above-ground swimming pool, downed railroad signal wires resting on it.

        “Once we got there, we knew there was nothing we could do,” Mr. Oney said. He and Mr. Grathwohl called for more crews and began evacuating residents, who were allowed to return to their homes after a few hours.

        Jeff South, 45, was awakened by the wreck even though he lives more than 100 yards away.

        “It was like the furnace exploded,” he said. “It was loud to wake me up from a deep sleep, and I'm a sound sleeper.”

        Susan Vela contributed to this story.


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