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Train hits semi in Perham; Alvarado driver shaken but unhurt

An empty semi-truck trailer was smashed by a 123-car freight train Friday morning in downtown Perham, Minn. No injuries were sustained by the truck driver, who was from Alvarado, Minn., or the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train crew. But the impa...

An empty semi-truck trailer was smashed by a 123-car freight train Friday morning in downtown Perham, Minn.

No injuries were sustained by the truck driver, who was from Alvarado, Minn., or the Burlington Northern Santa Fe train crew. But the impact of the collision tore the truck trailer apart, ripping the metal and steel trailer open like a sardine can.

The accident occurred about 7:18 a.m., within about 20 yards of Perham City Hall. The eastbound train was carrying 17,000 tons of lignite to Superior, Wis.

The truck driver, Arturo Martinez, 47, was unhurt by the accident but visibly shaken and was experiencing breathing difficulty, according to Perham Police Chief Brian Nelson. He was transported to the Perham Memorial Hospital and Home for observation, and was later interviewed by the Perham Police Department.

The Friday train accident was the second Perham railway accident in less than a month.

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The truck driver, Martinez, had dropped the trailer in a lot in the Perham industrial park near the tracks, according to Brent Hills, of the BNSF claims office in Fargo. But the trailer was apparently in the wrong spot, so the driver was asked to reconnect it to the truck and move it, according to Hills. The trailer was then backed up, where it became disconnected -- directly over the rails. Martinez said he had forgotten to replace the pin in the trailer, but observed the train coming and realized it was too late to move the trailer off the tracks, according to the Perham Police Department report.

The driver and the truck itself were a safe distance from the collision. There was no damage to the truck.

Train conductor Mark Halvorson, West Fargo, said he and the engineer saw the trailer about 500 feet from the point of collision.

"I went down to the nose of the engine as a safety measure to avoid flying debris," said Halvorson, noting that the nose is steel-reinforced. The train engineer immediately called in the emergency, Halvorson said.

Fortunately, the truck trailer was empty, Halvorson added.

"There could have been hazardous materials ... if the trailer had been fully loaded, it could have been a lot more dangerous," Halvorson said.

The extent of the damage is uncertain at this point. The truck trailer is likely a total loss. The railroad crossing arm, and the electronic control unit mounted by the tracks, were replaced by a BNSF crew by Friday afternoon.

Perham was divided in half for about an hour, as the stalled freight train shut down north-south traffic. The cars were separated within two hours to restore traffic flow, but it wasn't until 1:30 p.m. that the load of lignite was back on route to Superior.

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Seventeen Perham volunteer firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes.

The truck and trailer was one of about 24 rigs owned by B and M Transport, based in Detroit Lakes, Minn. The empty trailer was going to be dropped at Bongards Creameries, which is less than a block from where the accident occurred.

On May 29, a BNSF freight collided with a pickup truck, which was crossing the tracks about a mile east of downtown Perham -- killing Larry J. Brewer, 67. The fatality occurred at an unsignaled crossing east of town, when Brewer crossed the tracks in front of the train.

The Enterprise and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Related Topics: ACCIDENTSPERHAM
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