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Railroad crews work to reopen main line to LA

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Railroad crews work to reopen main line to LA

Union Pacific work cranes position sections of railroad ties and rails into position on the bared road bed of the main line at Austin Road and Highway 99.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin/

POSTED July 22, 2009 3:04 a.m.

Union Pacific Railroad work crews were busy laying new track sections Tuesday morning at the scene of the main line wreck Monday evening as one Manteca family relived the scare of their lives.

John and Carolee Flynn were headed home from Ripon when the warning gates went down in front of their car at the Austin Road railroad crossing near Highway 99. Carolee was driving their late model BMW when another car pulled up behind her locking their vehicle in place.

Their two children, Ashley, 7, and 19-month-old Abby were in the car with their parents.  The third grader remembers vividly seeing the rocks fly and the sparks come from the train’s wheels.

Flynn, a part of the Union Bank management team in Modesto, said he and his family were anxious to get home for dinner as it was already past 7 p.m.  

“When we got to the tracks, I looked down the length of the train to see how long we were going to be sitting there,” he remembered.  

He said he noticed the train was throwing up rocks and told his wife to back up for fear the car was going to be scratched by the passing freight cars.  She couldn’t because of the other car behind them.

When the train was some 50 yards away they all saw sparks coming from the rails.  When the grain or fertilizer car approached them it separated from the car in front of it, and went airborne some five to seven feet in the air, he said.

Flynn recalled that the car came down hard a third of the way into the Austin Road crossing and went to the right side of the tracks with the second half of the train continuing on some 1500 feet down the tracks.  The front section of the freight stopped with a quarter mile separation.

“When you are looking straight at the train you don’t know which way the cars are going to go,” he said, estimating the train was traveling 40 to 50 miles an hour.  It wasn’t going all that fast, he said.

Flynn added that he was surprised that none of the flying debris from the derailment hit their car.  After firefighters and CHP units arrived at the scene the Flynns were interviewed for what they had seen at the time of the crash.

The UP work crews had removed all the freight cars by early Tuesday morning except for the one fertilizer car that was central to the separation of the units.  It lay on its side on the railroad right of way away from the rail bed.

Pre-made sections of track had been brought to the scene stacked on flat cars.  Workmen unloaded them with construction cranes putting them in place on the road bed of the main line that stretches between Roseville and Los Angeles.

A train of open gondolas was brought into the site late Tuesday morning to be used to take out the remnants and debris from the wreck.

Austin Road continued to be closed to traffic throughout the day.  In the afternoon the onramp to Highway 99 was closed with railroad construction equipment.  Southbound traffic was detoured to the eastside frontage road connecting to Hwy 99 at Jack Tone Road.

With the scene of the accident south of Austin Road, Union Pacific was unable to use the nearby siding to allow train traffic to pass through the area.

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