Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Truck-train collision spurs crossing closure

A coalition of representatives of Umatilla County, Oregon state, Union Pacific Railroad and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation was scheduled to meet on May 19, 1994, to discuss the closure of a dangerous unmarked railroad crossing in front of Pendleton Readymix near Mission due to safety concerns — and almost too late. Two hours before the scheduled meeting, a collision at the intersection demolished a Gordon’s Electric pickup and injured two employees. Miraculously, neither man was seriously hurt.

Employees of the concrete plant who witnessed the crash at 12:02 p.m. said it was a miracle the men survived at all. The train, traveling eastbound, hit the back of the pickup and spun it around. One of the men was thrown through a window. The pickup was dragged by the train 72 feet down the track from the crossing, according to Tribal Police Chief Leonard Cardwell.

Employees of Pendleton Readymix and Pacific Power rushed to provide aid until emergency services could arrive. The stopped train blocked the intersection and the cars were not separated, so EMTs had to lift the injured men between two rail cars. Gordon’s employee Ivan Nicley, 33, of Milton-Freewater suffered extensive facial injuries and was admitted to St. Anthony Hospital for surgery. His partner, H. Tom Thompson, 29, of Helix was treated and released the same day.

Readymix employees expressed frustration over the crossing, which they said didn’t afford good visibility for oncoming trains that were usually moving at a good clip at that point. “We sit there every day and watch as one after another almost gets hit,” said Readymix employee Jane Clarke. “And then the sickening sound. ... It was just a nightmare seeing people hanging out the front of the pickup,” she added.

The accident did have one upside: Officials at the meeting had a first-hand account of the danger posed by the crossing. Work was slated to begin as early as the following summer to close the crossing and another in front of Hall’s Trailer Court, and build a new crossing about halfway between the two with a frontage road alongside the railroad tracks to access the two businesses.

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