Two freight trains collided head-on in the middle of the night and exploded in a huge fireball on a stretch of track controlled by dispatchers 850 miles away. Four people were killed.
Two of the dead were Union Pacific employees, one aboard each train. The others were not authorized passengers and may have hopped the trains, Union Pacific said Monday.
Two more train workers were injured late Sunday in the crash that derailed 29 rail cars, damaged a railroad bridge and caused a tremendous blast as 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel ignited.
The fire was extinguished early Monday, although smoke continued to rise from a clump of rail cars. By midday, workers were removing cars as investigators tried to determine why the Union Pacific trains had been on the same track.
“We’re checking the orders that were issued to the trains to see how they were written and how they were carried out,” said John Bromley, a Union Pacific spokesman in Omaha, Neb. “It’s likely that human error will play a large part in this.”
The accident occurred about 30 miles southwest of San Antonio in “dark territory,” meaning it has no rail signals and must be controlled by dispatchers in Omaha, Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said.
The northbound train was loaded with rocks. The southbound train was carrying auto parts.
“It looked like an explosion like in the movies,” said Cayetano Guerrero, who was driving nearby. “It looked like the sun coming up. That’s how bright it was.”
Of the two injured train workers, one was in serious condition with burns, while the other was treated and released.