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News Link • Evacuations & Catastrophe

Real-Life Survival: Train Wreck Topples Town

•, by Janet Spencer
When the over-worked heater went out in the engine, the engineers stopped the train in order to swap engines so they could have heat. They set the brakes, disconnected the train, swapped the engines, and then went to re-connect the train, only to find it……missing. As it turns out, brake fluid congeals at about 20 below zero, becoming useless. Montana Rail Link didn’t know that at the time, and neither did the two hapless engineers. So, 44 fully loaded rail cars rolled backwards out of control nine miles from the top of the continental divide, colliding with a side-tracked train right in the center of town.

It was 5:00a.m. and 29 below zero when all of Helena got rocked out of their beds by a cataclysmic explosion, catastrophic conflagration, and toxic cloud of fumes rolling across town. Every window was shattered for a mile in all directions. Thousand-pound pieces of train rained down upon the adjacent college and nearby business district. The power was out. The phones were dead. The police were unable to communicate with the firemen; the firemen couldn’t communicate with the railroad; and nobody was communicating with the citizens. It was a mess. A horrifying mess.


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