Thursday, September 28, 2000
Oak Creek A wheel on an empty coal train is suspected to have malfunctioned early Thursday morning, causing seven cars to derail in downtown Oak Creek. No one was injured.
Oak Creek Public Works Director and Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup said he could feel the crash of the derailing cars shake his house two blocks away.
Sometime after midnight on Thursday, Wisecup was working on his computer at home when he heard the train pull through town.
"I thought it sounded kind of funny," he said. But when a train whistle blew, indicating the lead engine had gotten out of town, Wisecup thought everything was fine.
At about 12:27 a.m. Wisecup heard a loud, creaking sound of metal that shook his computer keyboard.
"The next thing I knew, my pager was going off," Wisecup said.
Thirteen Oak Creek firefighters, two Oak Creek emergency medical technicians and two Oak Creek police officers responded, followed by a 20-man crew from Union Pacific to clean up the mess.
The cars, each weighing 35 tons, derailed in downtown Oak Creek, where Sharp Avenue crosses the railroad track, blocking the intersection. They laid toppled and crooked on both sides of the track with railroad crossing signs and telephone poles that were uprooted. Some of the car's metal wheels were ripped off and were scattered on the ground.
Oak Creek Police Officer Dave Miller said the seven cars were in the middle of the 120-car train.
J. Elliot, who owns The Colorado Bar and Grill, was closing shop when he heard the loud crash. He and volunteer firefighter Tom Wisecup were the first on the scene.
At first, all Elliot could see was dust, making him worried that there were vehicles on the other side of the track that could have been hit, he said.
"We saw that nobody was hurt, then we tried to secure the area. Once the police department got there, they took it from there," Elliot said.
Oak Creek Police Chief Dan Kelliher said the reports he received indicated one of the wheels under one of the cars locked up in Phippsburg.
"It drug for two miles," he said.
Dragging the frozen wheel along the track likely flattened it, and when it freed up and started rolling, Kelliher surmised, the disfigured wheel caused the car it was under to derail in Oak Creek. Six others followed, and one car fell down into the creek, ripping through soil until the train stopped.
"We're still determining all the causes of the accident," Union Pacific spokesman Jan Golightly said. "Right now, we have a wheel on one of the cars that's in question."
By noon, most of the cars that derailed had been moved toward the track. The railroad crew then replaced the wheels on the cars, put them back on the on track and pulled them away with an engine.
"The real story here is everyone that has helped out," Golightly said.
He complimented the Oak Creek fire and police departments for quick response and ability to control the scene. He also gave a thanks to Elliot, who opened his bar early on Thursday to feed everyone at the scene hamburgers and french fries for free.
"They're hungry guys. They've all been up since 12:30 a.m.," Elliot said.
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