The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

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May 26, 2013

Missouri highway buckles after rail cars hit overpass

CHAFFEE, Mo. — A highway overpass in southeast Missouri collapsed early Saturday when rail cars slammed into one of the bridge's pillars after a cargo train collision, authorities said. Seven people were injured, though none seriously.

The bridge collapsed after a Union Pacific train hit the side of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train at a rail intersection. Derailed rail cars then hit columns supporting the Highway M overpass, causing it to buckle and partially collapse.

The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation into the cause of the cargo train collision, which happened about 2:30 a.m. near Chaffee, a town of about 3,000 southwest of Cape Girardeau.

Only two vehicles were on the overpass at the time. Five people in the vehicles were taken to Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, as were a Union Pacific train conductor and an engineer. All seven had been released by Saturday afternoon, hospital spokeswoman Felecia Blanton said.

"You're driving down the road and the next thing you know the bridge is not there. ... It could have been really bad," Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said.

The crash derailed about two dozen rail cars hauling scrap metal, automobiles and auto parts, tossing them into the overpass' support columns. The highway was shut down for about 8 miles from Scott City to Chaffee.

The overpass was about 15 years old and in good condition but just couldn't withstand the impact from the rail cars, Walter said.

Two 40-foot sections of the overpass buckled while two cars were on the roadway, sending the cars into the edges of the collapsed sections. A diesel fire also broke out in one of the locomotives after the collision, but was quickly extinguished, Walter said.

When Blanton heard about the crash, she immediately went online and saw video footage of the scene and was bracing for the worst, Blanton said. She said it was "a real blessing" that the injuries were relatively minor, the most serious being a fracture.

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