By JAMES PALMER
FORT WORTH (CN) – The classic algebra problem to calculate when two trains going at certain speeds will collide became a catastrophic reality on June 28, 2016 in the Texas panhandle.
Plaintiff Derek Schilling was working as a locomotive engineer on one of defendant BNSF’s westbound trains when it collided with an oncoming eastbound train from the same company, Schilling said in his Nov. 16 lawsuit, filed in Tarrant County, Texas.
Schilling said “something went horribly wrong” as his train collided with another at 43 mph “near the town of Panhandle, Texas,” northeast of Amarillo.
His attorney Scotty MacLean said in an interview that Schilling survived the crash “literally by the grace of God.”
Schilling recognized the impending collision and jumped from his train “seconds before the head on and impacted the ground as the train violently derailed around him,” the complaint states.
Moments after the collision, Schilling was “surrounded by freight cars in an open area,” MacLean said.
Both trains were hauling dozens of “loaded” freight cars – Schillings’ train hauled 54, and the eastbound train hauled 56, according to the complaint.
It goes on to say that the oncoming train crew “disregarded at least two signals” and accelerated to 65 mph when the crash occurred.
A preliminary report on the accident from the National Transportation Safety Board dated July 14, 2016, says that the eastbound train blew through a red stop signal before the collision.
Prior to that, the train passed a yellow signal to warn it a stop was imminent, according to the report.
Schilling’s conductor, Lara Taylor, and the two crew members from the eastbound train died at the scene, according to the complaint and the NTSB report.
Schilling believed Taylor was behind him when he prepared to jump, but he was unsure if she had managed to get off the train before the crash, MacLean said.
BNSF estimated that the collision would cost $16 million in property damage, according to the NTSB report.
“The incident involving BNSF employee Derek Shilling continues to be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board,” a BNSF representative said in a statement. “Under the board’s rules, BNSF is prohibited from commenting on the circumstances of the incident.”
Since the crash, Schilling has undergone one surgery and will probably need at least two more to treat his orthopedic injuries, according to the complaint.
BNSF said in a statement that it is in contact with Schilling regarding the aftermath of the collision.
“As we have said previously, the entire BNSF family was affected by this unfortunate incident and we have worked closely with Mr. Schilling to assist with his recovery, which includes providing financial support for his medical care,” a representative said. “We intend to continue providing that support as needed.”
Schilling is also “undergoing treatment for his emotional injuries” from the traumatic experience, MacLean said.
Schilling says he has been unable to work since the incident.
Schilling was a BNSF employee for 13 years and had an “impeccable record,” according to MacLean.
Schilling is suing BNSF Railway Company for violating the Federal Employers Liability Act through negligence.
Scotty MacLean is with the MacLean Law Firm in Forth Worth, Texas.