Runaway Train Blamed on Human Error

May 16, 2001 -- 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.

"I was able to mount it and isolate it and take the power away," he said.

CSX said the train was being assembled on a local track in its Stanley, Ohio, facility. It was then supposed to be moved to a departure track in order to be moved to a nearby Norfolk Southern yard.

Officials Feared Engineer Had Suffered Heart Attack

When authorities were first unable to contact the engineer, they believed the crew member must have suffered a heart attack, said the Hancock County Sheriff's office. They soon realized, however, that no one was in the train.

Of the train's 47 cars, 25 were empty and 22 cars were loaded with freight, mainly paper and lumber, CSX said. Two cars, however, contained molten phenol, a hazardous but nonflammable product used to make dyes, paints, pharmaceuticals and as a general disinfectant, according to CSX.

No one was injured by the unmanned locomotive, but there was some minor damage to some of the cars.

The National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration, and others are investigating the incident as well.