Attentive Engineer Averts Disaster on the Track

OCTOBER 2022 – There’s a memory that a Watco locomotive engineer in Tennessee won’t soon forget: the September night when he suddenly found his southbound train bearing down on a vehicle pointed in his direction on the tracks.

It was around 9:30 at night in early September, and Blue Ridge Southern Railroad (BLU) Engineer Josh Humeston was operating the WAMX 3939 southbound on the W Line in western North Carolina. Scott Lightfoot, conductor, and Adam Lunsford, conductor trainee, were with him in the cab.

They had just cleared a crossing at milepost 16 when Humeston saw headlights come into view about a quarter-mile away. The beams were pointed directly at him, “like playing chicken,” said BLU General Manager Kyle Ogle as he described the episode.

Luckily, what could have been the perfect storm was not. Ogle instead termed the factors in this near-miss “the perfect combination for Josh to be able to stop in time and not have an incident.

“It was a straight track, so he could see (the vehicle) in time,” Ogle explained. He also noted that the train had just come out of a 10 mph slow order and hadn’t yet picked up much speed. “But all the circumstances could’ve been different,” he said. “It could’ve been a curve and could’ve been a (heavier) tonnage train.” Depending on the train’s speed, the heavier train would have taken longer to stop – possibly not until it had already collided with the vehicle.

Humeston was able to safely bring his train to a stop. As an engineer, under Federal Railroad Administration and Watco rules, he couldn’t leave his train unattended. But Lightfoot and Lunsford were able to get off the train to investigate.

They discovered a woman had misunderstood her GPS and mistakenly turned onto the tracks at the crossing as they were approaching. Ogle said that the car had become stuck, and the driver and an adolescent passenger were “on edge, but unharmed.” The crew notified their dispatcher, who notified emergency responders. A tow truck arrived to remove the 2018 Hyundai from the track.

“Josh’s attentiveness prevented what could’ve been a horrible accident,” said Ogle. “We all know that complacency is a killer. I’m proud that these guys are doing their part to combat it day and night.”

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