Runaway Train Blamed on Human Error

ByABC News via logo
May 16, 2001, 9:09 AM

May 16 -- A veteran engineer accidentally triggered the release of a runaway freight train loaded with dangerous chemicals in Ohio, the train's owners said today.

The 47-car unmanned train traveled some 70 miles before CSX Transportation employees attached a second engine to the train to slow it enough to permit someone to jump aboard the locomotive and put on the brakes.

It reached speeds of nearly 50 mph as it rolled along the tracks, past farmers' fields and cities, including Bowling Green and Findlay.

The incident began when an engineer climbed off the locomotive to adjust a switch, CSX officials said. The man, whose name was not released, set two of the train's three braking systems correctly. But he mistakenly pulled the throttle lever instead of the one for the third, "dynamic" brake.

"This is a good employee, with 35 years of service and a clean record. He acknowledged that he made a serious error in judgment, and he will be held accountable," Alan Crown, a CSX vice president, said in a statement.

The mistake sent the train on a harrowing journey from Toledo, Ohio, to the outskirts of the town of Kenton, where railroad employee Jon Hosfeld jumped aboard and brought it to a stop.

We Had to Stop It Before It Derailed

Hosfeld, a 31-year CSX employee, told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America early today that he and his colleagues knew that they had to stop the train before it reached a large hill that might have caused it to derail in Kenton.

The railroad had begun slowing the train by hooking a catch engine to its rear. But that wasn't enough to stop it altogether.

"There were several crossings where we couldn't board the train," he said. "It was going approximately about 25 miles per hour and I felt no one could humanly do that. So I waited about a mile down that track where they would control the train speed between 10 and 15 [mph]."

Hosfeld then ran alongside the train, grabbed a railing on the locomotive, pulled himself aboard and hurried to the controls.