Baytown, TX Freight Yard Wreck, Nov 1983


Baytown, Texas (AP) -- An engine hauling tank cars in a rail yard smashed into parked freight cars early Saturday, killing four men as a car carrying jet fuel slammed into the engine from behind, authorities said.
The dead men and a fifth trainman whose legs and arm were broken lay in the wreckage as jet fuel leaked from the tank car for two hours before other rail workers discovered the crash, the second fatal train wreck in Texas in eight days.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Larry Todd said there was no danger from the jet fuel.
The engine, carrying three trainmen, was moving tank cars in an area where trains are assembled near Baytown when it hit the line of freight cars at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday. Behind the engine was a caboose carrying two trainmen, and behind the caboose were 12 tank cars.
When the train, traveling about 20 mph, hit the line of 41 parked freight cars, the caboose and one tank car were knocked aside and another tanker filled with jet fuel rammed into the cab at the rear of the engine, a state trooper said.
Two of the crewmen in the engine were thrown clear and killed. The body of the third was trapped in the engine cab and was removed by firefighters who pried the wreckage apart. One of the men in the caboose was killed and one was injured, officials said.
Bob Baldwin, a Southern Pacific assistant manager of dispatching, said he thought visibility was reduced by a misty rain.
Tony Aleman, a spokesman for Southern Pacific, said the line of 41 freight cars had been parked on the track at 7 p.m. Friday.
He said the wreck wasn't discovered until another work engine started hauling cars from the undamaged end of the lines of cars.
A teen-ager who lives less than a half mile away, Joel Gesford, 14, said the noise of the crash awoke him, and he rode to the scene on a bicycle, arriving at about 6 a.m.
"I heard someone groaning," said the youth. "I heard it a couple of times."
The boy said he did not call authorities because, "I didn't know what to do."
DPS officials identified the dead as C. C. HUTCHISON, 35, of Houston, brakeman G. A. STEWART, 31, Pasadena, Texas; engineer J. R. SANDRAS, 33, Houston, and brakeman E. C. HALLMARK, 59, Houston.
Conductor W. J. MUCHOW, 41, of Hempstead, Texas, broke both legs and one arm. Jim Mahoney, a spokesman for Life Flight, which took MUCHOW by helicopter to Hermann Hospital in Houston, said he was in stable condition. MUCHOW was later transferred from intensive care into a regular hospital room.
All the victims were Southern Pacific employees, a railroad spokeswoman said.
The train collided with the cars about 1 1/2 miles south of Interstate 10 at the eastern edge of Harris County.
Investigators from the NTSB, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Texas Railroad Commission and Southern Pacific were at the scene searching for clues to the cause of the accident, Aleman said.
The collision was in a yard area where trains are not tracked electronically, Baldwin said. The yard is used by work trains to put together freight trains for cross-country hauling.
Baldwin said trains in the area work by so-called "yard rules" that require a reduced speed, but there are no specific limits. He said trains can move only fast enough to be able to stop in half the distance to the limit of visibility.
Baldwin said nobody heard the accident and the wreckage was discovered around 7:20 a.m. by other rail workers.
Southern Pacific terminal supervisor Ron Clifton said he did not know what the tank cars contained.
On Nov. 12, four people died when an Amtrak train derailed near Marshall, Texas.

Galveston Daily News Texas 1983-11-20