ANDOVER — It could have been a disaster.
Thanks to the quick actions of customers at Depot House of Pizza, including a retired state trooper, a freight train stopped before hitting a car that was stuck on the tracks that cross Essex Street last night. The shop is at 53 Essex St.
The retired trooper, Sean Melvin, got the driver out of his car while other customers frantically signaled the engineer to stop the train, according to Jovany Santos, who works at Depot Pizza. Melvin could not be reached for comment last night.
The driver, whom police did not identify, apparently intended to make a left turn from Essex Street into Dundee Park, a group of office buildings, and made the turn too quickly, according to police Sgt. Cecilia Blais. The incident happened around 8:15 p.m., she said.
The freight train was moving slowly, but if it had been a commuter train which tends to travel faster, a serious crash could have resulted, police said.
The car, which Santos described as a red Porsche, was wedged between a rail and snow. The driver tried to free his car by shifting into reverse, but the wheels spun ineffectively in the snow, Santos said. The noise of the spinning tires alerted pizza shop customers, who also noticed the freight train, which was approaching from Lawrence.
Melvin pulled the driver out of the car, while other customers waved and yelled at the train engineer to stop. Santos estimated the train stopped 20 to 30 feet before the car.
“It’s a good thing he was going so slow,” Santos said.
He estimated the freight train may have had as many as 20 cars.
Randy Metivier, an inspection and repair foreman for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail, which operates passenger trains for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, was sent to the scene to make sure the tracks were not damaged. Metivier showed an Eagle-Tribune reporter how the car was wedged between a rail and a buildup of snow.
“This area is well lighted,” Metivier said.
He pointed out that because of work being done on a nearby railroad bridge, trains have a 10 mph speed limit on that stretch of the line. A commuter train going more than 50 mph would not have been able to stop so quickly.
A tow truck pulled the car from where it was trapped. Police went to the scene but did not arrest the motorist, who drove away in his car, Santos said.