CSX 8888 incident

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CSX 8888 incident
CSXT 8029.jpg
A CSX EMD SD40-2 locomotive, similar to the locomotive involved in the incident
Incident CSX 8888 map.png
The train's path highlighted in blue
DateMay 15, 2001
12:35 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.[1]
LocationWalbridge, OhioKenton, Ohio
66 mi (106 km) South
CountryUnited States
LineToledo Line Subdivision
OperatorCSX Transportation
Incident typeRunaway train
CauseOperator error

The CSX 8888 incident, also known as the Crazy Eights incident, was a runaway train event involving a CSX Transportation freight train in the U.S. state of Ohio on May 15, 2001. Locomotive #8888, an EMD SD40-2, was pulling a train of 47 cars, including some loaded with hazardous chemicals, and ran uncontrolled for just under two hours at up to 51 miles per hour (82 km/h).[2] It was finally halted by a railroad crew in a second locomotive, which caught up with the runaway train and coupled their locomotive to the rear car.[3]

As of 2021, the locomotive is still in service, having been rebuilt and upgraded into an SD40-3 as part of a refurbishment program carried out by CSX, although its number is now #4389.[4] It was delivered as Conrail #6410 in September 1977.[5]


A captioned photo of EMD SD40-2 controls reveals how one can mistake power and dynamic brake settings.

On May 15, 2001, a CSX locomotive engineer was using Locomotive #8888 to move a string of freight cars from track K12 to track D10 for departure on another train at Stanley Yard in Walbridge, Ohio, CSX's primary classification yard for Toledo.[2] The string consisted of 47 freight cars; 25 of them were empty, but 22 of them were fully loaded, including two tank cars containing thousands of gallons of molten phenol, a toxic ingredient used in paints, glues, and dyes that is harmful when inhaled, ingested, or when it comes into contact with the skin.[3]

The engineer noticed a misaligned switch and concluded that his train, although moving slowly, would not be able to stop short of it. He decided to climb down from the train, correctly align the switch, and reboard the locomotive.[6]

Before leaving the cab, the engineer applied the locomotive's independent air brake. During mainline operation, he would also have applied the automatic air brake, which would set the brakes in each of the train's cars. But, as is normal for intra-yard movements, the air brakes of the train were disconnected from the locomotive and thus were not functional. Furthermore, applying the locomotive's brakes disabled the train's dead man's switch, which would otherwise have applied the train brakes and cut the engine power.[1]

The engineer also attempted to apply the locomotive's dynamic brake to slow the train to a crawl; dynamic brakes dissipate momentum (kinetic energy) by using the momentum of the train to drive the traction motors, generating electricity exactly like a regenerative braking system does in a hybrid/electric automobile, which slows the train. However, the engineer "inadvertently failed to complete the selection process", meaning that he in effect set the train to accelerate, not to brake. Using the power throttle handle, the throttle for the traction motors was set at notch 8. If the dynamic brakes had been properly engaged as intended, the locomotive would have used the motors against the momentum of the train as generators, causing it to slow down. Instead, the train began to accelerate. Therefore, the only functioning brake was the air brakes on the locomotive, and this was not enough to counteract its power.[1]

A portable derailer

The engineer climbed down from the cab, aligned the switch, and then attempted to reboard the accelerating locomotive. However, he was unable to do so and was dragged by #8888 for about 80 feet (24 m), receiving minor cuts and abrasions. The train rolled out of the yard and began a 65-mile (105 km) journey south through northwest Ohio unmanned. Attempts to derail the train using a portable derailer failed; the portable derailer was thrown clear of the track by the force of the train when the latter ran over it. Police officers attempted to engage the red fuel cutoff button by shooting at it; after three shots mistakenly hit the larger red fuel cap, this ultimately had no effect because the button on former Conrail SD40-2s like CSX 8888 must be pressed for several seconds before the switch is activated and the engine starved of fuel and shut down.[5][7] A northbound freight train, Q636-15, was directed onto a siding where the crew uncoupled its locomotive, CSX #8392 (another EMD SD40-2), and waited for the runaway train to pass. #8392 had a crew of two: Jesse Knowlton, an engineer with 31 years of service; and Terry L. Forson, a conductor with one year's experience.[8] Together they chased the runaway train. An EMD GP40-2, CSX locomotive #6008, was prepared farther down the line to couple to the front of the runaway to slow it further, if necessary.[9]

Knowlton and Forson successfully coupled onto the rear car and slowed the train by applying the dynamic brakes on the chase locomotive. Once the runaway had slowed to 11 miles per hour (18 km/h), CSX trainmaster Jon Hosfeld ran alongside the train, climbed aboard, and shut down the engine. The train was stopped at the Ohio State Route 31 crossing, just southeast of Kenton, Ohio before reaching locomotive #6008. All the brake shoes on #8888 had been destroyed by the heat caused by being applied throughout the runaway trip.[1]

CSX never made public the name of the 35-year veteran engineer whose error caused the runaway, nor what disciplinary action was taken.[10][11]

Preservation attempts[edit]

Several railway museums tried to buy #8888, but CSX officials replied that they did not feel the locomotive was worthy of preservation and that it would be rebuilt as part of the SD40-3 rebuild program in late 2014 and early 2015. The locomotive remains in service as of 2022 but now operates as CSX SD40-3 #4389.[4]

In film[edit]

The incident inspired the 2010 movie Unstoppable.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d Kohlin, Ron. "CSX 8888 Runaway Investigation". Kohlin. Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Station: Stanley Yard, Ohio". Michigan's Internet Railroad History Museum. Archived from the original on 2015-11-01. Retrieved December 17, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Runaway train stopped after uncontrolled 2 hours". CNN. May 16, 2001. Archived from the original on February 11, 2006. Retrieved February 24, 2007.
  4. ^ a b Lambert, Jason (2016-06-01). "Canadian Railway Observations: South of the Border". canadianrailwayobservations.com. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  5. ^ a b Kohlin, Ron. "CSX 8888 - Play by Play". Kohlin. Archived from the original on 2007-12-14. Retrieved 2021-08-04.
  6. ^ "CSX #8888: The Real Story of "Unstoppable"". Rare Mileage. November 12, 2010. Archived from the original on 22 Jun 2019. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  7. ^ "Train Movies - Unstoppable". TrainBoard.com. Archived from the original on 2020-08-05. Retrieved 2021-08-07.
  8. ^ Worden, Amy (November 12, 2010). "Pennsylvania man lived the drama that inspired 'Unstoppable'". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on 16 Jun 2013.
  9. ^ Feehan, Jennifer; Lecker, Kelly (16 May 2001). "Disaster avoided during hours of panic, 66 miles of terror". The Blade. Archived from the original on 4 Aug 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-04.
  10. ^ a b Patch, David (November 12, 2010). "Hollywood widens truth gauge in runaway train flick". Toledo Blade. Retrieved August 21, 2011.
  11. ^ "Human error blamed for runaway train". CNN. May 16, 2001. Archived from the original on 5 Oct 2010.

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