Crew rescued from derailed, burning CSX ethanol train in Kentucky

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The wreckage of Thursday's CSX ethanol train derailment in Kentucky burns after the train crashed into a landslide along CSX's Kingsport Subdivision.
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The lead locomotive of a CSX ethanol train that derailed and burned Thursday sits partially submerged in the rain-swollen river adjacent to the rail line.
ELKHORN CITY, Ky. – The crew members of a CSX ethanol train that derailed and caught fire in Eastern Kentucky are being treated for injuries they suffered in the harrowing crash.

Southbound CSX train K429-11 crashed into a significant landslide Thursday morning just before 7 a.m. on CSX’s Kingsport Subdivision, about 5 miles north of Elkhorn City, Kentucky. The train, consisting of three CSX General Electric-built locomotives, two buffer cars, and 96 loaded ethanol tankers, derailed upon impacting the slide, which resulted from nearly two weeks of rainfall across the central Appalachian mountains. The lead locomotive, CSX GE AC4400CW No. 168 plunged nose-first into the rain-swollen Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River below. Another, the number of which was not visible, came to rest on its side, spilling diesel fuel along the riverbank and into the water. The third became entangled in the wreckage of two tankers that derailed and burst into flames, also igniting the spilled diesel fuel.

As the fire raged, the train’s crew emerged out of the nose of the 168 and stood, partially submerged in water, yelling to residents of a nearby neighborhood across the river, pleading for help. Local resident Austin Cox, who was awoken by sound of the train’s horn as it blew for a nearby crossing less than a minute before the derailment, recalls the crew telling the residents across the river that at least one of them was injured and requesting help from a boat or even a helicopter. Emergency personnel first on the scene requested a swift-water boat rescue. Cox says he was worried the boat would not make it in time. “The two workers came out of the front of the engine and were asking us for help,” Cox recalls. “There’s nothing really you can do with the water. It’s real gut-wrenching. They’re asking you for help, and you want to help, but there’s not a thing you’re going to do to help them.”

In a video posted to social media and picked up by numerous news outlets, the crew can be heard yelling, “Where’s the boat?” The videographer replies, “It’s coming,” while pleading with the crew, “Don’t give up.” The swift-water boat, operated by the nearby Millard Fire Department, finally arrived, and the crew members were rescued just before the fire spread to the cab of their felled locomotive. “That was a sigh of relief,” Cox says. “Once I seen them get off the front of the engine and they were both alive, both walking … that’s just a sigh of relief. It’s a miracle they’re alive today.” The crew members were taken to Pikeville Medical Center hospital for treatment of their injuries, the extent of which was not available. Once the crew was removed from the train, officials at the scene watched as the fire continued to burn, consuming the wreckage an eventually growing to include flames more than 100 feet in the air before mostly burning itself out.

Dozens of CSX personnel converged on the scene, as did personnel from R.J. Corman Railroad Group and personnel and equipment from Donahue Brothers Emergency Railroad Services. Numerous local and state agencies in Kentucky also responded to the incident. After the worst of the fire was out, CSX personnel cut the train near the head end and pulled the underailed cars away from the scene. Another landslide later came careening down the mountainside and shoved one of the derailed tanker cars that was resting on the riverbank into the river. Thursday’s derailment and fire occurred upstream from intake locations for local water utilities. The utilities shut down intake operations for much of the day Thursday, but were allowed to resume intake following testing by Kentucky’s Division of Water determined it was safe to do so.
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