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Truck-train crash renews fears about traffic mix

Following a truck-train collision Tuesday morning along Ganson Street that produced a small inferno and seriously burned two workers, the dangers of different modes of transportation operating in the same area were suddenly underscored.

And so were earlier concerns voiced by General Mills – which employs hundreds of workers along the Buffalo River – that a flood of traffic streaming to nearby entertainment attractions may some day encounter similar problems.

David Tincher, general manager of the Buffalo General Mills plant, appeared to have predicted the dangers of traffic interaction in late 2013, when he testified before the Buffalo Planning Board. The board was considering approving the now semi-completed Buffalo RiverWorks, the ambitious entertainment complex currently drawing new visitors to the area.

“Industrial operations next to a busy entertainment venue will inevitably lead to frustration by all, traffic delays, confusion and more,” Tincher told the board then. “We are very concerned about public safety and our own employee safety that could be jeopardized with increased congestion along the Ganson and Michigan street intersection.”

Tuesday’s collision of a CSX train and a third-party trucker at a warehouse near General Mills proved to be less tragic than it might have been.

The unidentified CSX conductor on the back of the train working the grain mill complex was burned, but is expected to survive. Officials said the same is expected of the truck driver, also unidentified by authorities.

The conductor suffered burns to 18 percent of his body, including his face, according to Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. Both he and the trucker, who escaped his burning cab with minor injuries, were taken to Erie County Medical Center for treatment.

The accident occurred shortly before 10 a.m. in the 300 block of Ganson Street, where the train – an engine and three box cars – was moving backwards. The truck, heading toward Ganson with a full load of flour, collided with the last box car, which was empty.

One of the natural-gas cylinders used to power the truck ruptured, the fire commissioner said. Pieces of the truck cab were propelled by the blast.

The truck’s cab was destroyed; fire officials estimated the damage at $600,000.

“The tractor-trailer was burning but it was also impinging upon the train,” Whitfield said. “There was some insulation within the train that was burning.

“There were no reports of hazardous materials at this location,” he added. “There was no danger to any persons around here.”

Buffalo firefighters remained on the scene early Tuesday afternoon to deal with issues related to the truck’s natural-gas cylinders. Some firefighters also were slated for examination at ECMC.

The cause of the accident is under investigation by Buffalo police and CSX Transportation.

In a statement, General Mills late Tuesday said the accident did not disrupt its local operations. The company also saw no connection between the collision and its earlier fears of problems caused by the RiverWorks complex.

But new visitors are flocking to the riverfront. A bus tour led by Buffalo historian Mark Goldman – full of visitors viewing the historic grain elevators and shipping lanes along the Buffalo River – witnessed the collision. Goldman called the result an “inferno.”

Hockey players and fun seekers are expected to stream to the RiverWorks complex, which features two ice rinks already in operation, a beer garden and a brewery slated to open later this year.

But Doug Swift, a partner in the RiverWorks project, said Tuesday’s collision is no different from other accidents that are bound to occur. He emphasized it took place on private property and away from the street that will eventually ferry visitors to the new attraction.

“You’ve got trucks and trains all over the city mixing with cars and life goes on,” he said. “We’re as concerned as anybody, but the traffic generated here had little or no impact. We respect the concerns of General Mills and we do our best to ensure the safety of everybody.”

Swift said his partnership has conducted several meetings with the Police Department to oversee safety and added that neighbors appear happy with plans in place.

“So far, so good,” he said, adding that any visitor interactions with trucks or trains will stem from people “being where they shouldn’t.”

Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen did not return a call seeking comment.

Meanwhile, nobody on the tour bus was hurt.

“We were crossing the Michigan Avenue Bridge and we stopped for a moment, and at that instant, we heard an explosion,” said Larry Cohen, who was on the bus with more than 50 people when the explosion occurred a couple hundred feet away. “As we beared left onto Ganson Street, with General Mills on the right, we saw a billow of smoke, and flames engulfing the box car and truck cab.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com, jhabuda@buffnews.com, and tjpignataro@buffalo.com