CHEAT MOUNTAIN — The recent tragic collision that crippled an excursion train and created chaos and fear for the 63 passengers and four crew members onboard, culminated in a region-wide and state-wide effort of community support and demonstrated how communities in this remote area of north central West Virginia can work together in a time of crisis.
The Cheat Mountain Salamander, one of four excursion trains operated by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, was carrying passengers from around the country on a routine fall-foliage trip on Cheat Mountain when a logging truck rammed the side of the train, knocking two cars off the tracks onto their sides, injuring 23 people and killing the driver of the truck.
According to state officials, the train was traveling 10 miles per hour crossing US Route 250 when the accident occurred.
Lawrence Messina, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, noted that the railroad company has a reputation for safety, and that the crew onboard responded immediately.
“I’ve been told that the engineer of the train saw the truck approaching and tried to speed up to clear the intersection and then, after the collision, the conductor of the train ran a third of a mile to the nearby station to call for help,” he said.
In the remote area where the accident occurred, there is no cell phone service and it is also a radio quiet zone.
“Because of the call,” he added, “Emergency responders from Randolph County and Pocahontas County were on scene within 15 minutes of the crash,” he added.
Within 30 minutes responders from other nearby counties and cities were at the scene to help tend to and transport the injured. Agencies responding at the scene included Elkins Hazmat Special Response, Marlinton Rescue, Cass Rescue, Randolph County EMS, Shaver’s Fork Fire Rescue, Beverly Fire Department, the West Virginia State Police, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Davis Memorial Hospital, Tygarts Valley Fire Company, Valley Head Fire Department, Webster County Emergency Service, Webster Springs Volunteer Fire Department, the Durbin, Bartow, and Frank Fire Departments and the U.S. Army.
According to Tracy Fath, director of marketing and development at Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins, all 67 people onboard were brought to the hospital. Nineteen were transported by ambulance and 43 people with minor injuries were transported by school bus.
Of the 67 transported to Davis Memorial, 22 sought treatment, three were admitted and four were transferred to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, Fath said.
Randolph County Office of Emergency Services director Jim Wise indicated that medical helicopters, such as HealthNet, were unavailable due to high-level fog. Snowshoe Resort sent one emergency medical vehicle with equipment to offer assistance at the scene, and heavy machinery from Webster County was brought in to assist with clearing the scene.
As of Tuesday morning, the patient at Davis Memorial Hospital in Elkins had been discharged, and two people were in fair condition and one person in serious condition at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.
“The response to this accident was overwhelming,” said John Smith, Durbin & Greenbrier Valley president. “It truly shows how we work together as a region-wide community to ensure the safety and well-being of our fellow citizens.”
“We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the victims of last Friday’s accident, especially to the family of the truck driver who lost his life,” Smith said.
“We would also like to commend and thank the emergency responders and various other agencies who came to the scene so swiftly and handled the situation with the utmost care and professionalism, ensuring the safety and medical aid of all injured parties,” Smith added.
According to Durbin & Greenbrier Valley reservations manager, Shane Yeager, all Cheat Mountain Salamander reservations have been cancelled for the remainder of the 2013 season. The accident does not affect the schedules of the remaining Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad excursion trains.