DOUGLAS, Ga. (BP) – A train derailment Monday (Feb. 7) left several rail cars scattered around a rear parking lot of Eastside Baptist Church while barely missing a building, the church’s pastor told Baptist Press.
Christian Colson was having lunch at home when a church member called him about something she’d heard on her scanner. A train had derailed behind the church.
“We have a preschool that dismissed at noon,” said Colson, who became the church’s pastor in late 2016. “There was no one on the property and thank goodness, because I couldn’t imagine kids being there and having to hear that when it happened.”
South McDonald Avenue is about 1,000 feet from Eastside’s back door, with the road rising into a crown where the tracks cross. The trailer of a semi had gotten stuck, according to witnesses, and bottomed out on the track.
Colson told BP that he heard attempts to contact the oncoming eastbound train came too late to avoid a collision, although brakes were being applied at the moment of impact.
A video from the front of the locomotive shows the crash. The truck had been detached by that point, but the trailer became trapped by the locomotive. Dragging along, at one point it passed by the church’s preschool playground immediately beside the track.
From that point the train approaches a track change directly behind the church and begins to derail. The camera angle tilts to the left until the locomotive is on the ground. Additional drone footage showed several rail cars scattered behind Eastside Baptist.
CSX Transportation said in a statement that one of its trains consisting of two locomotives and 39 loaded intermodal cars struck an unoccupied semi-truck just before 1 p.m. EST. Several of the cars and one locomotive derailed, and the train crew was taken to a local hospital for treatment. CSX personnel worked throughout the night to move derailed cars and complete repairs to the track.
CXS will continue to work the site until the area is fully restored. The incident is still under investigation.
From what he was told, Colson expects those arriving at church this Sunday to probably see at least five rail cars in the parking lot awaiting removal. The church’s Family Building, consisting of classroom space, narrowly escaped damage.
Those from the neighborhood and first responders were already on the scene when Colson arrived. Casey Wright, chief for the Douglas Fire Department and pastor of West Green Baptist Church, asked if the building could be opened up.
Colson gave his immediate “yes,” and shortly thereafter left for a nearby Elliano’s Coffee. He soon returned to the church’s fellowship hall with two large containers of coffee – a welcome sight on the cool, drizzly day.
Those in the neighborhood and others curious continued to drift by throughout the day. Before dinnertime, a church member whose son works for the rail company called and asked if the fellowship hall could be opened up for workers to have a place to eat, which of course, they could.
“CSX provided pizzas for its workers, but then my wife sent out a text to other women in the church to see if they wanted to bake brownies, cookies or cakes for them,” Colson said. “They were all excited to do it. I stayed with other church members at the building until around 12:30 (a.m.), keeping coffee going in a couple of electric percolators, making sure the cooler was filled with ice and bottled waters and talking with others.”
Colson told CSX supervisors the building would remain open for their use even after he left. By 5 a.m., their work – for the time being – was finished and another train was rumbling through Douglas.