Train, truck accident causes power outage, reroutes traffic on U.S. 70

Xcel energy crews work to repair a downed power pole following an accident involving a train and semi that caused power outages in Portales

By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico

A collision between a Southwestern Railroad train and a tractor-trailer Thursday 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. Workers were able to reroute electricity by bypassing the affected lines, said Wes Reeves, with Xcel Energy. Power to 2,600 customers was out for about three hours, he said.

Traffic was restored on U.S. 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 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 without a scratch,” Wilhoit said, “I was looking one direction and 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.

“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.”