By Thomas Garcia PNT Staff Writer
A collision between a Southwestern Railroad train and a tractor-trailer this morning forced the closure of U.S. Highway 70 and created power outages across Portales.
The accident occurred about 10:15 a.m. at the intersection of North Kilgore Street and U.S. Highway 70, according to officials.
The driver of the tractor-trailer and the train’s two conductors were not injured, according to officials.
Most power had been restored by 1 p.m., the workers were able to reroute electricity by bypassing the affected lines, said Wes Reeves, with Xcel Energy. The power was out for three hours effecting 2,600 customers.
Traffic was restored on U.S. Highway 70 about 12:30 p.m., while N.M. 467 (Air Base Highway) was still closed at 4 p.m., according to Capt. Lonnie Berry of the Portales Police Department.
Berry Wilhoit, the driver of the truck, said he was looking down as he approached the intersection, was unable to stop in time and was struck by the train. The train struck the rear section of the trailer, ripping the trailer in two and whipping the truck around, Wilhoit said.
“I was able to walk away with out a scratch,” Wilhoit said, “I was looking one direction did not see the arms down and tried to brake when I realized I could not stop I tried to hurry across.”
The collision caused the semi to strike a power pole, which caused downed power lines that forced all traffic on U.S. 70 to be rerouted, Berry said. The downed power lines contributed to power outages throughout the city.
The truck was empty, Wilhoit said.
Traveling westbound, the train was already applying its brakes as it approached the intersection to meet a drop to speed limit of 20 mph within the city, train conductor Roger Banister said.
“We could not get stopped in time,” Banister said. “Once we knew we were going to hit him, we hit the floor.”
The accident investigation has been turned over to the New Mexico State Police, New Mexico Department of Motor Transportation and the Railroad police, Berry said.
The cleanup of the accident scene could take up to four hours. Power has been restored to some areas but there are still some outages, Berry said.
“We are fortunate that there were no hazardous materials being hauled by the train or semi,” Berry said. “Once the truck and train can be cleared from the intersection and the power pole is secured and stabilized, traffic along U.S. 70 can be resumed.”