I had just ridden into North Kansas City’s BNSF freight train yard just across the Missouri River this frigid winter’s day in 1999.
I had hopped out of Galveston, Texas two days before on a grain train that had unloaded its loads of grain onto an overseas mega-grainer ship. This train was now on it’s way back up to the bread-basket areas of the mid west for a mega-load of its own at the grain elevators that so massively dot the Mid West. I had ridden up through Temple, Texas, the first day where the train fueled up at and the locomotive units were serviced. The second day of the trip brought me up through the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex and points north until I reached Kansas City.
The temperatures were now only in the lower 20’s and I had so far been riding the outside porch area of a grain car. I walked to the PDQ convenience store and bought more canned goods, Sunday paper, and a cup of hot coffee. After warming up my gloves under the hand drier in the rest room at the PDQ, I packed all my grub into my backpack and then walked back down to the railroad yards.
While I was at the store, the locomotive units had been taken off the train. They had been taken to the roundhouse for a quick servicing before returning to the train. I knew that I had to ride somewhere warmer than where I had been riding, so I hid out on an empty boxcar one track over from where my train was. Right after I heard the grain trains brakes air up and it was getting ready to take off north for Lincoln, Nebraska, I climbed up onto the very last rear locomotive unit, opened the door and got inside the cab. Man, it was so warm and dry inside the cab! I turned the auxillary sidewall heater up on high and soon fell to sleep once we rolled north out of the yards.
I wasn’t at all sure which grain elevator town that we would be going to for a refill of grain, but I did know that it wouldn’t be anywhere south of Lincoln. The most likely area that this train would be going would be up around South Dakota or perhaps in western Nebraska, so I was able to sleep without having to worry about getting dumped off at an elevator.
As I slept, the train came to an abrupt halt after the screeching of the brakes and a very loud thud. We had been traveling at about 45mph down the tracks when an 18-wheeler grain truck crossed the tracks at a road crossing. It didn’t fully pull all of the way up and across the entire mainline. We struck the rear end of this grain truck and the trailer of this truck flung into the ditch spilling its whole load out onto the ground! We had probably continued on another 250 yards up the tracks before the train had come to a complete stop. The conductor came running back to the locomotive unit that I was riding on and told me that I needed to vacate the unit as fast as I could. The cops would soon be there on the site to take their accident report. So as fast as I could, I gathered up all of my gear and climbed down the outside ladder to ground-level and took off as fast as I could toward the hiway.
I had not walked more than a quarter mile when one of the police cars pulled up behind me and asked had I seen the accident. Would I fill out a report on what I had seen. I told the police that I was sleeping alongside the fence line when it had happened and that I really had only heard the accident. I still was required to fill out a report on what I had heard.
Nobody had gotten hurt during this accident, but there have been a total of four times in my train hopping travels where the train that I was riding has hit a vehicle at a road crossing! In every single event, I had been riding in the rear locomotive unit! The time that the train I was riding on hit a car outside of Marrysville, Kansas, it had killed a young lady.
I have heard that for every 45 minutes, there is a road crossing/train collision accident somewheres in the USA!