DALLAS (AP) — Three crew members were missing and one was hurt Tuesday after a head-on train collision in the Texas Panhandle that caused several box cars to erupt in flames and led authorities to evacuate residents in the area.
The two BNSF Railway freight trains were on the same track when they collided near the town of Panhandle, about 25 miles northeast of Amarillo. Each train carried two crew members; one man jumped before the collision, according to BNSF spokesman Joe Faust. The man was being treated at a hospital and the extent of his injuries was unknown.
It’s not clear how fast the trains were traveling when they collided, but the speed limit in that area is 70 mph, Faust said. It also wasn’t clear why the trains were on the same track.
National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said the NTSB has opened an investigation, and the Federal Railroad Administration said it has investigators on site.
“I don’t know how anyone survived,” said Billy Brown, a farmer in the area who saw a fireball after the collision. “It’s terrible. I’ve seen a number of train wrecks but I’ve never seen one like this.”
Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Bryan Witt said few other details were available because emergency responders were still assessing the damage. Images provided by KFDA-TV in Amarillo showed thick, black smoke billowing from a jumble of several box cars that were strewn along the tracks.
It’s not unusual to have an accident in the Panhandle involving a truck that’s struck by a freight train, Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Dan Buesing said, but the magnitude of Tuesday’s accident was startling.
Officials in Panhandle ordered an evacuation of some nearby areas out of concern the flames would cause a fast-moving grass fire, the Amarillo Globe-News reported. Officials also asked residents to curtail water use because the water supply is being depleted by firefighters at the scene, according to KVII-TV in Amarillo.
Associated Press writers Betsy Blaney in Lubbock, Texas, and Joan Lowy in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.