Passengers could see truck was about to hit train

Passengers onboard during Friday’s tourist train wreck said they felt a moment of terror when they realized a logging truck was about to strike the Cheat Mountain Salamander.

“We could see it coming, and I looked at the people around me in the car and said, ‘he’s going to hit us,'” passenger Greg Barringer, of Culloden, said while waiting to be transported from the accident site Friday afternoon.

“We hoped if it would hit, that it would be the caboose, because it had no passengers in it,” Barringer said. “We saw and felt the truck hit the cars behind us and then we saw them tip over.”

The truck, owned by H & H Fisher’s Logging Company of Bartow, collided with the Salamander at a railroad crossing, hitting the train between two passenger cars.

Two of the train’s four cars, both of which contained passengers, tipped over after the impact.

One middle-aged couple, who asked to remain anonymous, said the scenic train ride was part of their holiday.

“We were celebrating our anniversary, and this was a surprise gift to my wife,” the husband said. “We were even running late. We had to hurry to make sure that we got our ticket. We never expected anything like this.”

He said that after the wreck he helped get passengers to safety.

There were many reports of people stepping up and helping the injured. One man onboard said a Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad employee was injured in the accident but still helped assist passengers from the train.

Lines of emergency vehicles were parked along the road leading to the wreck site as police, firefighters and EMS workers made their way to the tracks to offer their help.

Dozens of passengers sat on the guard rail as the injured were wheeled by on stretchers heading toward ambulances. The cries of ambulance and firetruck sirens pierced the air as emergency workers used a second log truck to prop up one of the tipped train cars.

“This is the first train/vehicle crisis of this magnitude in Randolph County,” Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady said at the accident scene Friday. “All agencies have cooperated together to respond as quickly as possible to the incident.”

Buster Varner of the Bartow-Frank-Durbin Fire Department said his company was at Green Bank Elementary School demonstrating their equipment when the call came in about the crash. He said his fire department was the first to arrive on scene.

Varner said he called for assistance from all Randolph and Pocahontas county fire departments, including Green Bank, Hillsboro, Marlinton, Snowshoe and Cass. Webster Springs also assisted at the scene. Varner added that in all his years of service, Friday’s was the worst accident he has ever witnessed.

Varner said the extraction of the log-truck driver, who was killed in the wreck, was complicated, taking nearly two and a half hours.

He said the log truck left no skid marks on the road leading to the wreck. Varner added that Joe Chabut of Elkins Truck Service said there would not be skid marks because the truck was loaded with logs.

An Elkins Truck Service vehicle had transferred the logs from the wrecked log truck by around 5:50 p.m.

Tom Ditty, an environmental enforcement officer with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, was on the scene.

“I am here to help make sure everything gets cleaned up properly,” Ditty said.

Bartow-Frank-Durbin paramedic Leisha Cassell said the rescue effort was the largest she has witnessed during her 20 years as a paramedic.

“There were so many departments there helping, from as far away as Snowshoe, Webster Springs and Belington,” Cassell said. “The train completely blocked the road and crews were working on each side of the accident. It was wonderful to see so many people helping – each group trained separately, yet everyone worked as a team.”

Cassell said things ran smoothly.

“Everything was handled the way it should be and no fire or EMS personnel were injured,” Cassell said. “It was great to see everyone work so well together.”

Cassell said the railroad crossing had not been used for years, until recently when the Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad debuted the tourist trains. The crossing does not have a gate, only flashing signs to indicate any coming traffic on the tracks.

“I don’t feel the railroad crossing is well-marked,” Cassell said. “It had not been used for a long time, and now it only has a few lights. I think the crossing will need to be reevaluated, especially in light of this accident.”

Agencies responding at the scene included Elkins Hazmat Special Response, Marlinton Rescue, Cass Rescue, Randolph County EMS, Shaver’s Fork Fire Rescue, Beverly Fire Department, the West Virginia State Police, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Davis Memorial Hospital, Tygarts Valley Fire Company, Valley Head Fire Department, Webster County Emergency Service, Webster Springs Volunteer Fire Department and the U.S. Army.

One Bartow-Frank-Durbin fire fighter said the cooperation on the scene was wonderful.

“We had so many fire departments, rescue personnel and ambulance crews helping today,” he said. “It was great that everyone worked so well together as a team to get the job done.”

– Staff Writer Tim MacVean contributed to this report.