"Lasagna Was Everywhere": Read the full story below the break!
A trucker’s wrong turn led to a huge mess for the City of Gaffney (South Carolina), a trucking company, a railroad and hundreds of rush hour motorists Wednesday morning after a tractor-trailer filled with frozen lasagna got stuck on a railroad track at the worst possible time.
The incident happened at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday when a C.R. England Inc. tractor-trailer hauling a load of Stouffer’s frozen food attempted to cross the railroad tracks on West Rutledge Avenue, a route that police said warned truckers of a hang-up hazard.
Two people, a head driver and co-driver were in the cab at the time, according to Gaffney Police Chief Rick Turner, and the co-driver reportedly was behind the wheel at the time. When the truck got stuck, the head driver took control and tried to drive the truck off the tracks.
“While he was trying to do that, he (the head driver) looked up and here comes a train,” Turner said.
Both of the drivers were able to exit their cab and run across the road, The engineer of a estimated 5,000-foot-long Norfolk Southern train reportedly told police that he spotted the tractor-trailer just as he was coming under the T-Bridge. The engineer immediately applied his brakes but there was no way to avoid what happened next.
The train, which was traveling at approximately 32 mph, sliced through the trailer, carrying a portion of it with it as it continued down the tracks. Cartons and boxes of frozen food spilled all over the tracks.
When the train came to a stop, its cars ended up blocking most railroad crossings in the downtown area with the exception of the T-Bridge, 3rd St. and Corry Street.
A massive responsive then occurred as Gaffney firefighters and police, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Norfolk Southern railroad personnel, the state Department of Transportation and Gaffney’s public works department all converged on the scene just as the morning rush hour was starting.
South Granard Street in the area of the accident was closed completely and numerous streets had to be detoured in an attempt to keep traffic moving.
The rail line was completely shut down, with one source saying all rail traffic between Charlotte, N.C. and Atlanta, Ga., was halted.
Luckily, the tractor-trailer wasn’t carrying anything hazardous — just frozen food. Despite the headaches and the massive undertaking, local officials said the response went smoothly.
“I was pleased with the way everyone worked together to get this situation under control and cleaned up,” said Gaffney Fire Chief Jamie Caggiano.
The chief, who still had lasagna stuck in his shoes hours after the incident, acknowledged, “This was a mess. We worked together to get the train moving as quickly as we could.”
Once the remnants of the tractor trailer were removed from the tracks and railroad personnel inspected for damage, the halted Norfolk Southern train finally got under way again at about 10:45 a.m.
At 11:20 a.m., Norfolk Southern officially reopened the rail line to traffic, confirmed Robin Chapman, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern.
While there was nothing hazardous on the tractor-trailer, Caggiano said firefighters removed diesel fuel from the trailer’s refrigeration unit out of an abundance of caution before the wrecked tractor-trailer was dragged off the tracks.
Chapman said four Norfolk Southern trains were delayed overall, with delays ranging from 1 hour 40 minutes to six hours. Chapman had not yet seen any report on damage to the locomotive when reached.
A Gaffney Police Department accident report listed the locomotive’s damage as unknown, while the damage to the C.R. England Inc.-owned tractor-trailer is estimated at $150,000.
There was no immediate estimate on the value of the truck’s cargo, or information about where it was being taken.
The Gaffney police report does not name the driver of the tractor-trailer, though it does indicate the driver was cited. Turner said the driver was charged with obstructing a railroad crossing and added that the South Carolina State Transport Police also were called to the scene to conduct additional investigations since a commercial vehicle was involved.
A call to the State Transport Police on Thursday wasn’t immediately returned. Even with the trains moving again and most of the scene cleaned up by Wednesday afternoon, the work continued into the early evening.
City firefighters went out to the scene to try and hose away the grease from the railroad crossing and roadway to alleviate any slippery conditions.
“There was an inch of lasagna ground into the pavement,” Turner said. “They (the firefighters) came down with the truck to hose off the road but the water was beading up. They eventually used big buckets of detergent and brooms to scrub the roadway.”
Even when the shattered tractor-trailer was towed away, Turner said, it still caused problems. It got snagged on a telephone line near the Five-Points intersection prompting yet another response by police and firefighters.
“As I hope you can understand, we can’t comment on accidents so long as there is an investigation in process, other than to say we will cooperate fully with authorities as they investigate,” offered David Allred, a spokesman for the C.R. England trucking company. “We are grateful that no one was seriously injured and certainly express regret for any inconvenience caused to drivers and neighbors in the area and for any property damage caused by the accident.”
There was no immediate estimate for the costs of the cleanup.
Turner added that the roadway detours and shutdowns no doubt inconvenienced several businesses. “But for public safety we had to block off that whole section,” he said.