BULLS GAP - The future home
of the Bulls Gap Railroad Museum, located in the former Gilley's Hotel, almost had some unwelcome
visitors Sunday - two Norfolk Southern engines and two empty coal cars.
Although the accident is still under investigation, a railroad switch may be the cause of a 12:30
p.m. derailment that sent two engines and two empty coal cars partially of the tracks in the old
downtown area of Bulls Gap. The derailment, which created a sound described as
a large rumble that many mistook for thunder, took place as the train was beginning to leave the
main track and travel on a section known as the "Y" that bisects the old downtown area and travels
directly in front of the former Gilley's Hotel, a landmark that was donated to the Bulls Gap
Railroad Museum several years ago. Fortunately, the engines veered away from
the building but caused emergency personnel to close the adjacent section of South Main Street and
detour traffic. All rail traffic on the busy main rail line, which runs from
Bristol to Knoxville, also came to screeching halt until the empty coal cars, which were headed
through the rail yard and to Virginia, could be removed by engines brought in from
Greeneville. An even longer delay was caused by the fact that the R. J. Corman
Derailment Services had to bring their equipment to the site from Georgia, with the tractor-trailers
arriving at approximately 7:45 p.m. Like an oversized model train, the first
large engine was slowly lifted back onto the track and left on its own power. At approximately
1:45 a.m., slightly more than13 hours after the incident began, the second engine and two empty coal
cars finally left downtown Bulls Gap. The Bulls Gap Community Center was
opened by city officials to provide the workers that filled downtown with a place to get warm and
stay dry on the cold wet day. Volunteers with the Railroad Museum provided coffer, hot
chocolate, donuts and cookies. While there were no injuries in the incident,
the area was without water after workers severed two water lines, leaving much of Bulls Gap without
water for hours and sending some water to the lower level of the old hotel.
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