Written by Matthew Orquia
On Tuesday afternoon, at around 12:30 p.m., a Norfolk Southern train collided with a semitrailer carrying a concrete beam at the railroad crossing at Apison Pike and University Drive, resulting in a derailment near Southern Adventist University.
According to authorities, two Norfolk Southern employees sustained minor injuries, but the concrete truck driver was not injured. The Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department tweeted that two people had been transported to local hospitals.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation said drivers should avoid the area as roads would be closed for a long time while an investigation is conducted and the area is cleared. The Chattanooga Fire Department tweeted that it and other emergency services are working to stop a diesel and lube oil leak from the locomotives, but there were no other hazardous materials at the scene at the time.
In the vicinity near Southern Adventist University, emergency vehicles rushed to the scene, and traffic clogged the roadways. At 4:11 p.m., Isaac James, the university’s director of Marketing and University Relations, emailed students and employees as a follow-up to a text alert that had notified campus of the situation.
“A semi-trailer truck carrying a concrete beam was halfway across the crossing when a train came through,” the email stated. “No major injuries were reported, but the intersection is closed, and traffic is being rerouted for now. The walkway that connects the campus to the Collegedale Greenway is also closed at this time. … There is currently no indication when traffic patterns will resume, so commuters should keep that in mind when traveling to and from campus.”
According to Hamilton County Emergency Services spokeswoman Amy Maxwell, fire officials reported that the truck carrying the concrete was stopped and waiting for a green light on Tucker Road when the crossing arms began to close, but was unable to clear the railroad crossing. The truck was carrying a 134-foot concrete truss beam meant for the Apison Pike construction project, according to Maxwell.
Three locomotives and at least ten railroad cars were derailed as a result of the collision.
Marc Walwyn, who witnessed the crash along with his daughter, said he couldn’t believe his eyes when the collision occurred.
“These things happen in a dream; they happen on TV, but you never see them in real life,” he said.
Walwyn was stopped a few cars back from a stop sign on Apison Pike when he saw the truck carrying the concrete beam turn across the railroad tracks. He estimated that it was there for one to two minutes.
“I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t good,’” he recalled. “But I thought, ‘They must have had permits … and plans and scheduling to make sure a train wasn’t coming.’”
Walwyn, who captured the crash on video, said he had begun filming to show his kids the size of the concrete beam that was being transported. Then he heard the train getting closer and began to realize what was happening. He said his daughter saw the driver of the truck jump out of the vehicle before the collision, and the sound of the crash was like an explosion.
“It was exactly like some type of action movie,” he added. “[It was] loud and just stunning.”
According to Walwyn, the family ran to the scene to see if they could help the conductors.
“By that time, they were already out and standing up,” he said. “… They looked like they were in pretty good shape, and they identified themselves as the conductors.”
(Photos courtesy of: Marc Walwyn)