November 25, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
30°F
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Amtrak train catches fire after stopping in Elyria

ELYRIA — Firefighters battled a blaze on an Amtrak locomotive Wednesday and helped Amtrak employees separate the burning engine from the rest of the train, which contained 128 passengers.

The early morning blaze caused an estimated $1 million damage to the $3.5 million locomotive, according to Elyria Fire Capt. Joseph Pronesti.

The fire was reported at 5:56 a.m. and the train got back on its way at 10:11 a.m. after another locomotive was brought in to help pull the train, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.

The burning train could be seen in the predawn haze as Jerry Seda arrived at work at 5:55 a.m. at Blue Star Recycling, just east of the Amtrak station.

“I heard all these alarms going and thought it was our shop,” Seda said. “I looked towards the tracks and saw flames shooting 10 to 12 feet into the air.”

Seda said he heard the fire engines coming and worried about the safety of the people on the diesel-powered train.

“I was waiting for an explosion,” Seda said.

Fortunately, the three employees inside the locomotive and the rest of the people on the train escaped without injury, Graham said.

After firefighters knocked down the fire, Amtrak employees separated the two locomotives containing an estimated 1,800 gallons of diesel fuel, Pronesti said.

“Diesel burns pretty hot — cleaner and more intense than gasoline,” Pronesti said. “I think most of it burned — it was really cooking.”

Initially the Fire Department and the Lorain County Emergency Management Agency & Homeland Security prepared to put train passengers onto buses, but it was determined that the people were safe where they were, according to EMA Director Tom Kelley.

The train’s second locomotive provided enough energy to heat the cars but not enough to pull the train until another locomotive arrived, Kelley said.

After the fire was extinguished, Amtrak reported that passengers were eating breakfast, Kelley said.

Pronesti said the people on the train “had quite a show” as firefighters battled the blaze and assisted train operators.

“I’m sure the passengers were inconvenienced with the delay of several hours, but they have quite a story to tell,” Pronesti said. “(The firefighters) did an outstanding job.”

Graham said the train was traveling from Chicago to New York City and had stopped in Elyria at 5:49 a.m.

The fire was reported just after the train had left the Elyria station. After the fire, Graham said it continued on to its New York City destination.

Pronesti said the biggest problem for firefighters was getting water and access to the train. Crews attacked the fire from each side of the tracks and used water from two fire trucks and the closest hydrant, he said.

There are three sets of tracks, so train traffic was disrupted but not entirely cut off, Pronesti said. The damaged engine was pulled off to the side.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.

Contact Rona Proudfoot at 329-7124 or rproudfoot@chroniclet.com.