BILLINGS – The driver of a semi-trailer that was struck by a freight train in northeastern Montana was recovering at a Billings hospital Wednesday while Burlington Northern Santa Fe crews braved below-zero wind chills as they worked to reopen the main line across northern Montana.
Trooper Ross Tuggle told the Billings Gazette it appeared Patrick Francis Parker of Sidney either didn’t see the train or thought he could beat it across the track at a crossing between Culbertson and Bainville on Tuesday afternoon.
The train crew “said it looked like he was going to slow down, then all of a sudden it went right in front of them,” Tuggle said. “It hit right where the truck and trailer meet on the drive axle basically.”
The cab of the truck stayed intact.
“I’m really surprised he lived through it,” said Tuggle, who had not yet interviewed Parker. Parker, 56, suffered a few broken ribs and teeth during the collision but was expected to return home Friday.
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the westbound train was traveling 69 mph when it activated its emergency brakes but was unable to stop in time. He said the truck was leaving a farm and crossed a public crossing marked with signs, but no automatic warning devices, when it was struck.
Four locomotives and 10 of the train’s 40 cars derailed. Two locomotives were on their sides and 500 gallons of diesel fuel spilled, but the spill was contained and was being cleaned up, Melonas said.
The cars were carrying everything from plastics to frozen meat, diapers and washers, some of which spilled.
Melonas said crews worked Tuesday evening and into Wednesday pushing damaged freight cars aside, re-railing cars and repairing track. He said crews working in temperatures of 17 degrees below zero with wind chills of around 40 below reopened the track at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Some trains were re-routed through central Montana on Montana Rail Link lines while others were being held until the track could reopen.
The train was traveling between Chicago and Seattle.
Amtrak bused passengers around the derailment site Tuesday and Wednesday, but expected to be able to run on Thursday, spokesman Marc Magliardi said.
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