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Conrail Derailment at CP-Tara Courtesy Conrail Inc.

Conrail CP-Tara Derailment

On-scene account of PIBE-8 rear ending ENG-103, September 29, 1997

by Kevin Burkholder

While on my way to work at University Hospital Emergency Medical Services, I turned on the scanner to listen to who the operator at Derry Road in Hershey was today. When I was about 5 minutes from work, at approximately 17:45, I began hearing multiple frantic transmissions on the Conrail road channel, with one pertinent message standing out..."PIBE just rear-ended us!!" The next radio transmission was Dispatcher Dowling calling the PIBE-8 crew without an answer. The ENG-103 crew responded that there was fire involved and appeared to be derailed cars. As I pulled into the parking lot at work, we were being dispatched for a "train derailment - locomotives reported on fire." My unit was the first on the street and heading for the site. The dispatch advised that the derailment occurred at Overview Road west of Hummelstown. This placed the wreck site at CP-Tara, the end of 261 territory (bi-directional signalling) on the Harrisburg Line. We were the first EMS unit on the scene and took command of EMS operations. On scene we initially found multiple derailed cars including two Cryo-Trans french fry cars and a Lamb-Weston french fry car; one Central Soya corn meal load; one Golden West boxcar loaded with Progresso Soup; one box with International Paper products spilling out; and at least one burning GP40-2. That was the quick size-up and we were then off to locating the crew members. We almost immediately discovered the deceased conductor of PIBE-8, and went off to find the remaining crew. The engineer was located by the engines and was in process of shutting down his power. The PIBE-8 had 6058 and 6146 as the leaders. Both units remained on the rails and upright, and were not on fire. The light engine move was located east of PIBE-8's power with the 6058 and the 6277 of the ENG-103 "kissing". 6277 (just renumbered from 751) was the west unit on the light power and received pilot and end damage. The rest of the ENS-103 consist was GP40-2 3301, 3308, then a pair of SD80MAC's 4106 and 4119. The GP40-2 3308 was lifted off the rails but upright, almost impaled on the 4106's nose. The 3301 was engulfed in flames and took over two hours to extinguish, with the assistance of the Harrisburg International Airport's Crash Rescue unit.

Initial on-scene reports indicated that the crew from PIBE-8 may not have correctly seen a signal at MP 106.1. This is speculation based on the fact that the sun was at a low angle and the same signal has created view problems in the past. The light engines were stopped on track one facing eastbound with the pair of SD80MAC's as the leaders. The crew had only a few seconds warning, as they heard PIBE-8 blowing the horn at Overview Road, just a hundred yards to their rear. The conductor of PIBE-8 apparently jumped from the locomotive, while the engineer rode out the wreck lying on the long hood walkway of the 6058. The crew from the ENG-103 and the engineer from PIBE-8 were all transported to Hershey Medical Center for evaluation and released a short time later.

Hulcher (from Gettysburg) arrived on the scene about two hours after the actual wreck and began sizing up the situation. A decision was made not to move anything until after further investigation and the arrival of the NTSB. Hulcher did begin clearing the wreckage shortly before dawn and had the line open by late the next afternoon.

The intermodal fleet that had arrived at Harrisburg behind the wreck were going to be detoured via Amtrak. Trains carrying double-stacks were going to have them removed and then be routed via Amtrak. Mail-9 and Mail-3 operate via Philadelphia and Lancaster over Amtrak's Harrisburg Line. Westbound traffic was being held east of Reading. ALHB-9 was held at Tulp and MOPI-9 was held at Valley Junction. ALPI-F and other Allentown traffic was not called out of Allentown.

According to the PIBE-8 (Pittsburgh-Bethlehem) manifest, the train was 136 cars long, 106 loads/30 empties, weighing in at 12,898 tons. Power was C40-8W's 6058 and 6146. The ENG-103 was five units, SD80MAC 4119, SD80MAC 4106, GP40-2 3308, GP40-2 3301 and C40-8W 6277. The light power originated in Enola and was destined for Oak Island.

Photos by Kevin Burkholder

Looking east at the ENS-103 light engines, GP40-2 3301 is buckled and burning.
This was our first view from Overview Road of the September 29 collision at CP-Tara, Hummelstown, PA. The french fry cars originally were on Track 1 heading east behind Conrail C40-8W's 6058 and 6046. The locomotives are just on the other side of this wreckage.
From the north side of the wreck, a severely mangled covered hopper has dumped its load of corn meal.
Firefighters prepare to attack GP40-2 3301 with Class B foam. This view is looking east at the CP-Tara interlocking signals. In order from left to right: Conrail C40-8W 6277, GP40-2 3301, GP40-2 3308, SD80MAC 4106, and SD80MAC 4119. These units were the entire ENS-103 consist.
Conrail C40-8W 6146 rests just east of the derailed cars near Overview Road. This was the trailing unit on the PIBE-8.

Photos by J. Alex Lang

The next morning, work crews had already cleared the wrecked cars from the right-of-way; and were busy installing panel track to open the Harrisburg Line back up. Here, crews are installing panel track on the #2 track. The Progresso Soup car is to the right (south).
The Central Soya cornmeal car was shoved north of #1 track.
Here is another view, looking east, as crews install panel track on #2. PIBE's power can be seen in the background.
This is a more close-up view of PIBE's power. The bulldozer is clearing debris from the #2 track to facilitate the installation of panel track.

This page was edited and maintained by J. Alex Lang, © 1997.
Last updated December 14, 1997
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