Veteran Ripon teacher’s aide Ardette Fassler was sitting in her rural farmhouse living room watching “The Wheel of Fortune” at 7:20 p.m. when she heard a deafening rumble outside her Austin Road home.
A hundred yards away from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, she witnessed a southbound freight train shuddering to a stop from her front window.
She said it took the estimated 130 car train some 30 seconds to become motionless from the time she first heard the sound of the wheels tearing up the ties, bending and up-righting steel rails.
She said she first noticed the one car that separated from other cars at the front of the train – it was listing at a 45-degree angle and spilling green pellets. Thirteen other cars had left the rails but remained upright.
The crash scene paralleled Highway 99 where motorists could see Austin Road was closed. However, northbound traffic on Austin didn’t realize there was a closure until they got up to the crossing.
The engine and the first 63 cars came to a stop near Olive Avenue and Highway 99 while the rear of the train sat idle next to Moffat Boulevard. There was a quarter mile separation between the two sections of the train.
Fassler said she called her husband Will to tell him there was a derailment and he would have to come home from the south. He had taken their children to a friend’s home north of the tracks to go swimming.
Manteca firemen located several smoldering ties after arriving on the scene.
The location of the derailment was south of the siding and tied up the main line between Roseville and Los Angeles.
Union Pacific work crews were expected to be on site by midnight and would work through the day until they repaired the track and reopened the main line. Motorists driving nearby on Highway 99 during the night could see the red and blue flashing lights from the highway patrol units and the Union Pacific Railroad Police on the scene for the night.
Manteca residents witnessed another freight train accident on Moffat Boulevard some 20 years ago where box cars and tank cars tangled together in the railroad right-of-way near the Manteca water tower. In that crash there was concern about the cargo the train carried and homes had to be evacuated for fear of fire and explosions.