Around 4 p.m. Thursday, something went terribly wrong on a Norfolk Southern freight train heading east through Attica, on its way from Bison Yard in Cheektowaga to Mechanicville, near Albany. The train's two engines flew off a high embankment, dragging train cars along with them.
In Attica, the single track line heads up what railroaders consider a fairly steep grade, keeping freights well below the track's 50-mile-an-hour speed limit.
"Where the rail track is, it's probably 50-75 foot above the farm field itself," said Attica Fire Chief Jay Myers. "There's a ditch in between the farm field and the rail bed, so the train came off the tracks, came over the embankment, almost down into the ravine below."
When the first responders made it to the scene near the Route 238 and East Main Road intersection at the back of a farmer's field in the gathering dusk, they found a pile of two engines - its lead one on fire - and perhaps 10 rail cars carrying new and wrecked automobiles. Volunteer fire companies assembled to get their trucks and equipment across the field to the bottom of the embankment.
They also called the railroad. Anthony Santoro, Wyoming County emergency management director, said there were real problems and a surprising answer from Norfolk Southern.
"It's not in a very easy place to get to. Each engine was carrying roughly 2,225 gallons of diesel fuel," Santoro said. "So the best response from Norfolk Southern and their response teams was to let the fuel burn off to lessen the contamination of the ground or any water sources in the area."
Well behind the cordon blocking off the fire scene, flames could be seen poking into the sky. Also on scene is a small creek that feeds into Tonawanda Creek. The state Department of Environmental Conservation put in devices to prevent the diesel fuel from leaking into the creek.
The train's two crew members were taken to Erie County Medical Center with what were described as non-life threatening injuries. Myers said he does not know how they escaped the wreck.
"How they got out of the engine at all," Myers said. "Both engines have gone over an embankment along with numerous cars have gone over an embankment. Some of the new cars have been thrown off the rail cars, so there's new cars in the ditch over the embankments also."
The railroad brought in a convoy of massive heavy equipment from Winter's Rigging in North Collins, which will clean up the scene and get trains rolling again on the Southern Tier rail line, a key transportation link for Norfolk Southern. The clean-up is expected to take days.