By Amy McCollom
It affected me, this train derailment at Pesotum last week. Not because it changed my driving route, or inconvenienced my travels. No, it brought back a million memories, thoughts, and even fears that I didn’t realize I still had. In a positive way, it also heightened my awareness and reminded me of some precautions I needed to remember and pass on to my kids in situations like that.
Train derailments are never something to ignore or brush off. Not to scare you, but there are some pretty serious substances being hauled down our railroad tracks every day, all day long. A derailed train can affect more people than just the ones on or near the train. Depending on what the train is hauling, and which direction the wind is blowing from, a derailed and leaking tank car could affect many people.
Also, damaged tank cars have been known to explode, causing damage even miles away from the wreckage site. Remember the train derailment and tank car explosion that happened in Murdock back in 1983? That train had been in the center of Tuscola just minutes before derailing in rural Douglas County. However, it has been said that if the derailment had happened in town, the tank car fire could have been put out quickly due to water availability, which was not the case near Murdock.
On August 14, 1975 at around 9:10 p.m., a freight train jumped the tracks and derailed at a small town in rural Edgar county, called Dudley, Illinois. My aunt and Uncle were sitting in their living room when they heard the crash. They called us the next day and we went down to their house to check things out.
A Penn Central train hauling 54 box cars had derailed, and 26 cars were lying on their sides, busted open and tangled in a mess. When it got dark out, (keep in mind, I was ten years old at the time) my dad and uncle and cousins took black garbage bags and we put on hoodies, and trudged through the muddy field about a mile to the train wreck site. We had flashlights, but back then, they weren’t too bright. We started loading up cans that we found that had spilled out onto the ground, Right Guard deodorant, I think. As fast as we could, and then we saw shoe boxes, so we shoved some of those in our bags too. Then my cousin and I heard someone yell, and somebody yelled “run!” So we started running as fast as we could.
It had been raining, and the field we had to cross was soggy with mud, and my feet got so bogged down with mud that I literally ran clear out of my shoes. As we ran, I heard my cousin next to me say, “They’re shooting at us!” and I heard noises whizzing past us, like peww, peww, so we ducked as we ran and finally got out of the field and all the way back to my cousin’s house. My chest hurt from running so fast!
I was covered in mud up to my hips, and had no shoes. I still had my garbage bag full of loot, which consisted of a bunch of cans of Right Guard and two pairs of size 11 mens tennis shoes, but the shoes were all for the left foot. I also had a story to tell about being shot at, running from the Railroad Police, and the guilt of taking things I shouldn’t have, but didn’t know better because everybody else in my family was doing the same.
So in my life experience, I know enough to tell you this about train derailments:
1. If you see or hear a train derail, run away, not towards the train. Call 911 and move away from the scene as quickly and orderly as possible. Do not stick around.
2. Once you are at least a mile away from the train accident, tune in the radio or television and stay informed.
3. Do not try to scavenge things from wrecked train cars. It is not only illegal, it is wrong. You could get shot, and at the very least you might feel guilty for years.
4. Be careful around train tracks. Don’t pull up too close while waiting for trains to pass. Never drive around down warning gates. And always look twice even after a train passes, in case another one is coming from a different direction.
5. Do not ignore train derailments. It could cost you your life.