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Trailer smashed by train was accidentally disconnected--and on railway

A look towards the west shows the destruction to a semi-trailer after being hit by a train Friday morning in Perham.1 / 3
Members of the Perham Fire Department begin pulling debris away from the train.2 / 3
A piece of the semi's trailer stayed with the train's engine car about a 1/2 mile up the tracks from the crash site.3 / 3

An empty semi-truck trailer was smashed by a 123-car freight train in downtown Perham Friday morning, June 26.

No injuries were sustained by the truck driver or the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train crew. But the impact of the collision tore the truck trailer apart, ripping the metal and steel trailer open like a sardine can.

The accident occurred about 7:18 a.m., within about 20 yards of Perham City Hall. The eastbound train was carrying 17,000 tons of lignite to Superior, Wisconsin.

The truck driver, Arturo Martinez, 47, Alvardo, MN, was unhurt by the accident but visibly shaken and said he was experiencing breathing difficulty, according to Perham Police Chief Brian Nelson. He was transported to the Perham Memorial Hospital and Home for observation, and was later interviewed by the Perham Police Department.

The Friday train accident was the second Perham railway accident in less than a month.

The truck driver Martinez had dropped the trailer in a lot in the Perham industrial park near the tracks, according to Brent Hills, of the BN-SF claims office in Fargo. But the trailer was apparently in the wrong spot, so the driver was asked to reconnect it to the truck and move it, according to Hills. The trailer was then backed up, where it became disconnected--directly over the rails. Martinez said he had forgotten to replace the pin in the trailer, but observed the train coming and realized it was too late to the trailer off the tracks, according to the Perham Police Department report.

The driver and the truck itself were a safe distance from the collision. There was no damage to the truck.

Train conductor Mark Halvorson, West Fargo, said he and the engineer saw the trailer about 500 feet from the point of collision.

"I went down to the nose of the engine as a safety measure, to avoid flying debris," said Halvorson, noting that the nose is steel-reinforced. The train engineer immediately called in the emergency, said Halvorson.

Fortunately, the truck trailer was empty, added Halvorson.

"There could have been hazardous materials...if the trailer had been fully loaded, it could have been a lot more dangerous," said Halvorson.

The extent of the damages are uncertain at this point. The truck trailer is likely a total loss. The railroad crossing arm, and the electronic control unit mounted by the tracks, were replaced by a BN-SF crew by Friday afternoon.

BN claims official Hills with declined to speculate on the total cost of replacing a complete rail crossing signal and arm.

Perham was divided in half for about an hour, as the stalled freight train shut down north-south traffic. The cars were separated within two hours to restore traffic flow, but it wasn't until 1:30 p.m. that the load of lignite was back on route to Superior.

Seventeen Perham volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes. Also responding were Perham Area Emergency Medical Services crews, Perham police officers and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad officials. Perham Mayor Kevin Keil was also on hand, inspecting the damages by about 8 a.m.

Then truck and trailer was one of about 24 rigs owned by B and M Transport, based in Detroit Lakes. The empty trailer was going to be dropped at Bongards' Creameries, which is less than a block from where the accident occurred.

On May 29, a BN-Santa Fe freight collided with a pick-up truck, which was crossing the tracks about a mile east of downtown Perham--killing 67-year-old Larry J. Brewer. The fatality occurred at an unsignaled crossing east of town, when Brewer crossed the tracks in front of the train.