By Tim Bross
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Two freight trains collided at a rail intersection in rural Missouri on Saturday, triggering the collapse of a highway overpass when at least a dozen rail cars derailed and struck a support pillar, authorities said.
None of the seven people hurt in the fiery crash - two train workers and five occupants of two cars on the overpass - suffered life-threatening injuries, Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter said in a statement.
"One train T-boned the other one and caused it to derail, and the derailed train hit a pillar which caused the overpass to collapse," Sheriff's dispatcher Clay Slipis said of the pre-dawn crash near Chaffee, about 15 miles southwest of Cape Girardeau, in southeastern Missouri.
The collision of the BNSF Railway Co and Union Pacific trains also sparked a fire when diesel fuel leaked from one of the train engines, Slipis said.
The crash occurred just over a week after a commuter train derailed in Connecticut, striking another train and injuring more than 70 people during the evening rush hour.
On Thursday, a truck hit a bridge and triggered the partial collapse of the structure in Washington state, sending two cars plunging into the frigid Skagit River and raising concerns about the country's aging infrastructure. Three people were rescued.
In Missouri, Wayne Woods told a regional CBS affiliate that he rushed to the scene as soon as he heard the crash to try to halt traffic as he called in the emergency.
"We heard the crash and we stepped outside and my son said the overpass was down. Then we heard a car's tires squealing like it was coming to a stop and then a crash and a horn continuously blowing," he told KFVS television.
"I got over there, the train was on its side. They got the guys out and lifted them down off the train and got them off the overpass. One was kind of bloody and the other one looked like he was pretty shook up," he said.
NTSB TO INVESTIGATE
There was no immediate word on the cause of the train crash.
Robert Sumwalt, a National Transportation Safety Board member, said in a phone interview that his agency could take about a year to reach a finding on the cause of the crash.
He told reporters earlier the agency will review the railroads' operating procedures and the performance of the train crews.
Terry Williams, a spokesman for the NTSB, said that under normal circumstances a signal would halt traffic on one of the intersecting tracks.
Union Pacific said its train had been primarily carrying auto parts from Illinois to Texas when it struck the side of another train, and that a Union Pacific engineer and conductor were slightly injured, according to spokeswoman Calli Hite.
The Union Pacific locomotive and about a dozen cars derailed in the crash, she added. She said the accident was the second derailment involving one of the company's trains on the same stretch of track, and that the earlier one on January 29 was weather-related.
BNSF said its train, which was 75 cars long, had been hauling scrap metal and was heading south when it was struck, and that none of the crew was injured.
(Reporting by Eric Johnson in Seattle and Tim Bross in St. Louis; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Peter Cooney, Dan Whitcomb and Philip Barbara)