The smoke from the fires was visible for roughly five miles.
Firefighters battled the blaze all night long, for something like 16 hours.
One square mile, to the north and east of the site, was evacuated as a
It was the second CSX train wreck in Jackson Township in less than two
years. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
The incident began at 1:18 p.m. Friday, when a westbound CSX train, stopped
for an unknown reason on one of two sets of parallel tracks, was rear-ended
by a second train just north of C.R. 600N, in the area of C.R. 500E, Porter
County Sheriff’s Police Sgt. Larry LaFlower told the Chesterton Tribune
That collision caused multiple cars to derail across the second set of
tracks, on which a third westbound train was traveling. As that third train
began to round the curve north from Washington Township into Jackson
Township, at a speed of 57 miles per hour, its engineer was unable to stop
it in time to avoid hitting the debris field from the first collision. It
None of the three trains’ total of six crew members—two on each train—was
seriously injured, Porter County Emergency Management Agency Phil Griffith
said. Two of them were treated at Porter hospital and released.
But the damage was colossal, Griffith said, a “big pile of train cars”: 25
cars were derailed, five of seven locomotives, and 45 intermodal trailers
being carried on flat-bed cars were strewn across the area like Tinker Toys.
Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Chief Brian Duncan, no stranger to
accidents, for his part expressed astonishment at the sheer mass and degree
of damage. “There’s an engine out there that’s totally destroyed,” he said.
“To see something that large destroyed. It was obliterated, just bits and
pieces. And the fact that nobody was killed.”
Of immediate concern to first-responders was the possibility of a
hazardous-materials release. Train No. 1—the stopped one—was carrying
ethanol tankers, empty as it happened, but as a precaution an area extending
one mile north of the site and one mile east was evacuated, LaFlower said.
Both Jackson Elementary School and Washington Township Schools were safely
clear of the evac area, but Duneland students who lived inside it—a
“limited number” who attend JES, CHS, and CMS—were held at their schools for
parents to pick up, Duneland Director of Transportation Jim Bonfield said.
There proved to be no large-scale haz-mat release and the evacuation order
was lifted after four hours.
Still, six of the seven locomotives on the three trains were leaking diesel
fuel, Griffith said—almost indistinguishable from kerosene and technically
considered a hazardous material—and very quickly the spilled diesel ignited
paper products being carried on one of the trains: enormous rolls of
newsprint and supplies of cardboard fast-food containers.
LaFlower said that he could see a “black plume of smoke” while en route to
the scene, only minutes after the collision, and from as far south as Ind.
2, nearly five miles away.
For the rest of the day and into the night, the fires were the real
challenge, Duncan told the Tribune, and in particular the remoteness
of the site both from roadways and from hydrants. “There was just a piled-up
mess of train cars and access was the biggest problem,” he said. “It was so
far off the road.”
Eight-hundred feet of hose had to be hand-stretched to the scene from the
east and 500 to 600 feet from the west, Duncan said. Then, possibly the
largest tanker plan in county history was put into effect. In fact, only
three fire departments in Porter County did not respond—Burns Harbor,
Ogden Dunes, and Lakes of the Four Seasons—while Hobart in Lake County did.
In the end, tankers filling at the Washington Township Volunteer station
brought an estimated 139,200 gallons of water to the scene.
The firefighters’ job was further complicated by the wreckage itself. “A lot
of the problem was getting to the actual scene of the fire because of the
piled-up cars,” Duncan said. “They had to be pulled off and out.” Meanwhile,
box cars had to be broken open just so firefighters could get at the rolls
At least two contractors were at the scene, one of them Cranemasters Inc. of
Hammond, which also responded to the CSX derailment in Jackson Township in
The LTVFD finally cleared the scene around 5 a.m. Saturday, Duncan said, but
was back again on Sunday to police some still smoldering hot spots. Crews
were building berms and establishing a containment area, where burning
debris would be buried for later removal.
Duncan took a moment on Sunday to express his heartfelt gratitude to all of
the agencies which assisted the LTVFD, including not only the various fire
departments but the Porter County Chapter of the American Red Cross, which
delivered food and water to firefighters; the Porter County Emergency
Management Agency, whose incident command center Griffith himself manned all
weekend; and the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, the Hebron Police
Department, and DNR Law Enforcement, on traffic-control duty.
“It looked a little like an amusement-park city with all the people,” Duncan
Does Duncan remember any previous incident on the scale of Friday’s train
wreck? The Ruge & Sons Meat inferno, in December 2002, “got pretty crazy,”
Duncan recalled. He added that, in the midst of battling the blaze in
Jackson Township on Friday, two separate departments—South Haven and Kouts—had
to respond to possible structure fires in their own jurisdictions. “When it
rains, it pours.”
By 12 p.m. Sunday, Griffith said, one of the two sets of tracks had been
sufficiently cleared to allow rail traffic to resume again. But the work of
dragging derailed cars to a staging area where they could be loaded onto
flat cars for removal continued. Four of the seven locomotives at the scene
were severely damaged, he noted, and of those four probably three were
This morning some of the county roads near the scene remained closed, with
only residents and school buses being allowed access. Bonfield thanked the
PCSP for escorting Duneland buses around and through the barricades.
Friday’s train wreck is the second in less than two years in Jackson
On June 16, 2010, a a westbound train derailed in the so-called Suman
Valley, north of C.R. 600N and west of C.R. 300E. Fourteen of the train’s 42
cars left the tracks.
No one was injured in the derailment itself but the next day, June 17, a
derail supervisor with Cranemasters Inc. of Hammond—a contractor brought to
the site by CSX—was crushed to death when a crane being used to clear the
tracks fell on him.
The Suman Valley in Jackson Township has been the site of other derailments
as well, at least two others to Duncan’s knowledge.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating Friday’s