Trucker survives train collision

Workers with Union Pacific inspect the remains of a tractor-trailer after it collided with a train at a crossing with Colorado Highway 133 Thursday morning. The train was pulling nearly 100 empty cars used to move coal from the mines east of Paonia, the truck was full with nearly 73,000 pounds of rock. At about 2 p.m. Thursday, workers began to split the trailer with a cutting torch to move the truck from the scene.

The semitrailer crested the hill on Colorado Highway 133 and began its descent toward the railroad tracks. Darin Little saw the train approaching the intersection and activated his engine brake.

The railroad crossing lights flashed, and the arm dropped down. Everything seemed fine.

“Next thing I know, I just couldn’t stop,” the Delta truck driver said, claiming his brakes malfunctioned.

In an act Thursday that likely saved his life, Little “gunned it,” shooting the cab of the truck across the tracks just before the empty 109-car coal train smashed into the belly of a dump trailer carrying 73,000 pounds of gravel.

The train pushed Little, his cab and the trailer more than 300 feet down the tracks.

The engine of the truck was still running. Little shut it off and climbed out uninjured.

“He’s in really good shape and doing pretty well,” Hotchkiss Fire District Chief Doug Fritz said of Little. “He’s a lucky guy.”

The accident, which happened just before 10 a.m. shut down Colorado 133 for more than three hours and closed off access into Hotchkiss from the east, Fritz said. Cleanup crews had to use blow torches to separate the trailer from the train engine.

Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said the coal train was traveling from Eagle Pass, Texas, to the West Elk Mine near Somerset. He said an average of six trains travel that line each day.

There were no injuries to the train crew or damage to the track, Davis said.

Little was cited for failing to stop at a railroad crossing, Colorado State Patrol Trooper Scott Santilli said.

Staff photographer William Woody contributed to this story.


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