Former conductor talks about train derailment

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BENTON COUNTY, Tenn. — A freight train derails in Benton County Sunday night, leaving a big mess to clean up. Train cars and a locomotive are now lodged in the mud. “It sounded like a jet plane taking off,” Merv Vires said. According to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, it may have been caused by washout after a nearby levee gave way. “They came straight off a hill,” Al Stokes said. “You can’t really see water on the rail until you’re way too close to stop.” The back of a nearby mobile home was completely ripped open after one of the derailed freight cars slid up an embankment and landed on its side. Luckily, the family that owns the home said no one was living inside at the time. “The train hit it, and the water went everywhere,” Merv Vires said. “It was just wild.” Al Stokes, now retired, worked as a CSX conductor on this same line for more than 20 years. He said the train would have been traveling around 30 miles per hour and would not have been able to stop in time. “All they could do is ride it out,” Stokes said. “When it was all stopped and settled, then they try to get out and get a hold of someone for help.” Luckily, neighbors who live along the tracks witnessed the crash and were able to get help. “When the water got up to them, they were hollering for help,” witness Micheal Vires said. “But we had to wait because we didn’t have a boat. We couldn’t walk because the water was so high.” According to Stokes, this is not the first time a train has derailed on these tracks. “They’ve had several on this road, from time to time,” Stokes said. “This is something that happens. There’s no way it could have been avoided.” The levee that broke is owned by mineral company Unimin, which has a plant nearby. According to a company spokesperson, they have concluded the levee gave way due to “erosion caused by water flowing through underground cracks.”

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