Accident at Osceola
October 29


It had been a long week of registering my sophomore advisees for next semester, mixed with the usual classes and assorted uproars at 235 Carver Hall. When I went home for lunch on Friday around 11:15, Jan had the scanner cranked and was taking notes. "Amtrak's hit a semi near Osceola.", she said.

Dang! I had one advisement appointment left at 1:00, and the registrations were due today. We kept an ear on the radio, had our lunch and made plans to head south as soon as I could get away. I went back to the office to find an email from Alan Kline announcing the incident. One of my colleagues stopped by to visit and asked if I had any weekend plans. "Yeah, I'm going to a train wreck as soon as I can get away." He didn't even flinch - they've become accustomed to my strange hobby.

I spotted my appointment out in the atrium at ten 'til and herded him into the office. By 1:15 we had him all signed up and headed for the registrar, and I was out of there. Jan had more notes, "9407 W - MP 333, 9679 W - MP 322, Work Train EMD 792 in the clear north side at Chariton, Both mains blocked, Cut semi off front of Amtrak, Lead unit ATK 49, KRS wants to know if the crew wants to be relieved, No, work to Ottumwa."

On the way to Osceola we could hear them working to switch out the damaged engine and replace it with a unit from a westbound. The incident happened at a grade crossing near MP 364. From scanner conversations we learned that Amtrak was going 79 mph and went into emergency about five to six hundred feet from the intersection.

As we came into town on Hwy. 69, we met a wrecker with one of the semi's rear axles dangling from the hoist. We got to the depot around 2:00 and found it quiet, so we went east out to the crossover at 357.9.

By the time we arrived, the damaged unit had been run east of the crossover and BN 9444, from a DEEX coal empty with BN 9407 and BNSF 9718, had been put onto the front of the Zephyr, leading AMTK 61. 9407 and 9718 were charged with taking the disabled unit back into Osceola.

I walked southeast in a farm field beside the tracks as ATK 49 was coupled up and shoved through the crossover for the trip back into town. Personalities and their help from several local TV stations were on hand, climbing fences in order to set their tripods up on the right of way. This activity didn't go unnoticed by the trainmaster, who notified the railroaders to "chase those people out of there".

Before long, ATK 49 was in tow and headed back west into Osceola, leaving 9444 and the CZ apparently ready to depart. However, Main 2 was out of service for work east of the crossover, so they would have to wait for 9407 and 9718 to return and pull west with their empties.

On the long walk back to the Jeep (I tried to signal Jan to drive on in, but the roadmaster's comments on the radio about the media scared her off), I was stopped by a newswoman in a very short skirt, about whom there'd been some comments on the radio. She wanted to know, "How did those guys get over on the other side of the tracks?" "They climbed the barbed wire fence.", I replied. "Oh."

We drove back into town to meet 9407. They pulled west of the north siding switch and then waited while permission was obtained from a MoW foreman to unlock the siding. Someone from 9407's crew pointed out that they had only 2 hours left to work. ATK 49 was shoved into the siding and carefully blocked and chained, since the brakes were somehow damaged. Soon, 9407 was backing down Main 1 to its train.

We drove out to the Hwy. 34 overpass and waited while 9407 got its air. They finally rolled west again at 2:40. It was almost 3:00 before Amtrak, in the guise of BN 9444 East, got a warrant, pulled through the crossover and passed by us. In the Zephyr this afternoon:

BN 9444, AMTK 61
Baggage 1702
Transition Sleeper 39019
Coaches 34016 and 31508 (Smoking)
Sightseer Lounge 33020
Diner 38010
Sleepers 32037, 32070 (Alabama) and 32068
Material 1524
Boxcars 71141, 71060, 71019 and 71027
Baggage 1709 (Bad Flat Spots - perhaps from today's stop?)
We drove out to the site of the accident. On the way we met a car hauler with most of the semi's cab aboard. It was absolutely pulverized, with the pieces dangling over the sides. All that remained at the grade crossing were the truck's engine, sleeper, front and rear wheels, and frame. The latter was bent into nearly a right angle V-shape from the impact. A witness was being interviewed on the north side of the tracks.

There was no apparent track damage, just fuel spilled from the truck's tanks. One of the railroad crossbucks was down with the pole broken. The trailer from the semi, a flatbed being used to haul sod, was intact and parked north of the grade crossing. I talked with a truckdriver who was helping with the cleanup and was told that the driver of the semi was conscious when removed from the wreck but did not survive his injuries.

We learned later from TV news that the victim was Robert Ray Rootes, from Minnesota, hauling sod to the new casino project northwest of Osceola. Our sympathies go to the family and friends.

When you compare the relatively small amount of damge to AMTK 49 with the condition of the semi tractor, you are immediately reminded of the Operation Lifesaver presentations. Let's all be careful out there.

Back in Osceola, I took some pictures of the damaged Amtrak loco. The pilot was pretty well bent under on the left side, but other damage appeared to be minor. What Jan and I had both thought was primer showing through turned out to be a piece of the semi cab.

Naturally, rail traffic was backing up behind all of this. With the route blocked from the time of the accident, about 10:45, to 3:00 in the afternoon, we expected to see a few trains. We stuck around Osceola for two.

The first was a coal empty, AEPX cars, with fuel tankers on the head end. They arrived at 4:00 with BNSF 9772, 8934 and 9720. At 4:30 we had the first of a string of waiting eastbounds with BN 9498, 9452 and 9610. The big motors came through town throwing back a "bow wave" of leaves. 9498's train had DEEX loads. We heard the detector at 356.7 report 474 axles for it as we headed back north to Indianola.


Bonus Section

October 24 to Melcher


Late on Sunday evening Jan and I drove out to Beech to see if we could catch anything on the Spine Line. Things have been very busy lately with lots of grain trains. We got to the underpass just time to see the tail end of a southbound leaving. We hurried on east and then south toward Melcher, passing over the manifest on the way down. At Melcher we stopped and waited for them. They came past the former Rock Island depot location at 6:45 with UP 3812, and SSW 9669 and 9639 (still experimenting with the new flash). The Melcher detector reported 374 axles, 33 mph and 51 degrees.

That's It!