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Close Call: Train stops moments before it would have hit semittrailer

It was a close call Wednesday morning, when a semitrailer got stuck on the BNSF railroad tracks at North Eighth Street near Washington Street in Brainerd with a train fast approaching.

The train, loaded with coal, stopped about 100 feet before it would’ve reached the semitrailer — potentially property damage and possible injuries.

The Brainerd Police Department was dispatched at 9:55 a.m. to the railroad crossing on North Eighth Street.

Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said responding officers immediately noticed an eastbound train entering Brainerd from the west approaching the location where the semitrailer was stuck. Officers requested that dispatchers make emergency contact with BNSF to notify the train engineer that the tracks were blocked.

It appeared that the semitrailer had attempted to turn from the southbound lane on North 8th Street, west into the access area behind Crow Wing County Food Co-Op, 720 Washington St.

The semitrailer driver, Monte Johnson, 51, of Davenport, Iowa, was apparently unfamiliar with the terrain around the railroad tracks and combined with accumulated snow, drove the truck across an area of the tracks not suitable for vehicles to cross. The semitrailer became stuck on the tracks facing west, directly in the path of the oncoming eastbound train.

Johnson was apparently able to leave the truck and wave to the train operator signaling the train to stop, McQuiston said. The train operator was able to bring the train to a complete stop 100 feet from the stuck semitrailer.

The train operator was unsure at this time if any damage had occurred to the train as a result of the sudden braking maneuver. The semitrailer was towed by Peterson Towing from the tracks and the train was able to proceed after about a 30-minute delay. This caused a delay at numerous railroad crossings for traffic in north and northwest Brainerd, the crossings on Sixth and Fourth streets. No one was reported injured as a result of the incident.

Johnson was driving a United Natural Foods, Inc. semitrailer. Johnson declined to comment about the incident, saying he was in a hurry and had to unload his delivery for the Crow Wing Co-op.

Jessy McShane, manager of the Crow Wing Co-Op, said this is the second time in two years that someone has tried to cross the railroad tracks to gain access to the store’s parking lot. McShane said it’s difficult for drivers to gain access, especially semitrailers because there is not a lot of room.

“He’s a new driver,” McShane said of Johnson. “This is only the second time he has dropped off a load at our store. It’s challenging to get into our parking and with snow covering the parking lot and tracks, there is no real visible barrier. And with him being new, the poor guy. Plus he was already late. He was supposed to be here at 7 a.m., but his truck broke down last night, so he was already late before he got stuck in the tracks.

“Thank goodness no one was hurt.”

McShane said employees saw the semitrailer go around the store so they knew he was coming, but didn’t know he was stuck. A customer told them that he was stuck on the tracks. She said by the time they realized he was stuck and went outside to help, Brainerd police officers were already on scene and the train had stopped and blew its whistle.

“Thank goodness they (police) were called right away,” said McShane.

The driver made his delivery to the store and then continued to make his other deliveries.

“We got everything fully stocked and ... Everyone is relieved. We had to eat some cookies because we were a little stressed out.”

Katie Cooley said she was on South Sixth Street at the time of the incident and a Coca-Cola semitrailer was in front of her. She said the driver got out and asked if the motorists could back up.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department assisted Brainerd police at the scene.