CAMERON, Texas (KXAN) — A train and an 18-wheeler collided Tuesday in Milam County, sending a ball of flames and thick black smoke into the air. It was a situation that could have been much worse, but the fire did not reach a train car carrying hazardous material.
“There were some hazardous materials a little farther back, so by the grace of God we were saved on that one,” Milam County Sheriff Chris White said.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said according to the railway company, BNSF Railway, 10 railcars were carrying coke coal, plastic pellets, gasoline and fiberglass. Waco region staff monitored the air and didn’t detect any volatile or organic compounds downwind of the fire. There were no impacts to nearby bodies of water.
The crash took place at a railroad crossing on Farm to Market Road 2095 near Cameron at 6:40 a.m. Tuesday. The train crew and truck driver weren’t hurt.
“It sounded like a tanker, like a pressure cooker, like ‘psh ka-boom!,'” explained Mark Tyhusrt, who lives right by the train tracks. “Big giant flames at least 100 feet in the air.”
About 13 of the 110 train cars derailed. Five of those cars were carrying gasoline and caught fire, according to officials.
“BNSF showed up pretty quick and disconnected and moved the hazardous cargo out of range of the fire,” White said. “The train was carrying in the front compartments coal and gasoline and so that’s what caused the huge fire and all the smoke.”
The crash did cause a house to burn down nearby, but everyone got out safely.
“We do have some elderly people that we’ve evacuated from their homes, and it does appear that one home has burned that was close to the tracks, but other than that, everybody seems to be safe and good,” White said.
Only people right by the accident scene were part of a mandatory evacuation. Others had a voluntary evacuation.
“The cars started backing up on each other, smashing,” he said. “We looked outside, and there was a huge explosion. I busted out the camera, started taking pictures, and then we were asked to evacuate, so we left,” Tyhurst said.
IN-DEPTH: Train also hit a stalled 18-wheeler at that intersection in 2016
According to a federal railroad crossing report, the crossing has had four crashes happen since 1984, the latest two about two months apart from each other in 2016. On May 18, 2016, a train hit a stalled/stuck 18-wheeler at 7 p.m., and on July 2 of the same year, a train hit a pickup at 3:35 a.m. In both instances, no injuries were reported, and no hazardous material was being carried by the train.
Another federal report says the crossing is signaled, has two gate arms with flashing lights, bells and the pavement before the crossing is marked with stop signs and railroad crossing signs. In 2019, the crossing averaged 16 trains per day (6 a.m. – 6 p.m.) and 16 trains per night (6 p.m. – 6 a.m.).
Cameron Police Chief Lonnie Gosch took this photo from the scene showing the massive fireball at sunrise.
KXAN investigator David Barer contributed to this report.