CLEVELAND, January 7 — Brother Christopher G. Seeling, Secretary-Treasurer of BLET Division 85 (Columbia, S.C.), was killed on January 6 when his Norfolk Southern train collided with another train that was stopped in a siding. He was one of eight people to die in the accident.
A toxic cloud of chlorine gas was released as a result of the derailment, contributing to the deaths of seven people in the nearby area and injuring about 240 others. The accident happened in Graniteville, S.C., approximately 11 miles east of Augusta, Ga.
The train’s conductor, William Wright, a UTU member, was hospitalized in critical condition after the accident, but his condition has been upgraded to stable.
Brother Seeling, 28, joined the BLET on March 1, 2001. He and the other victims died as a result of the inhalation of toxic chlorine gas fumes. Brother Seeling was not married and had no children. He is survived by his parents, his brother and his sister.
Brian McLaughlin, Local Chairman of Division 85, was one of Brother Seeling’s friends and co-workers.
He described Brother Seeling as a hard working, dedicated railroader who was focused on safety.
“He was always smiling,” Brother McLaughlin said. “He was a man of faith and a hard worker who took pride in his job. Chris always talked about safety. He really cared a lot about the men he worked with. He cared about their safety and cared about making sure everyone got home safe.”
After a recent derailment in the area, Brother McLaughlin said Chris urged co-workers to “mind their Ps and Qs so you could go home to your family.”
He said Brother Seeling will be missed by everyone.
“I will remember him as a fun loving guy who was always cracking jokes but also a man who talked about his faith and spirituality. He was sincere in everything he did.”
Brother McLaughlin, 47, has been railroading for 27 years and was a mentor to Brother Seeling.
“I taught him a lot of things about safety,” he said. “I was like a big brother to him and gave him encouragement sometimes when things weren’t going so well. He was very humble.”
Outside of the railroad, McLaughlin said Brother Seeling was an outdoorsman who enjoying deer hunting and duck hunting. He also enjoyed spending time with his family and attending church.
“He always talked about his family get-togethers, especially around the holidays,” McLaughlin said. “He talked about his faith, which meant a lot to him. He was a man of faith who had strong convictions.”
Since the accident, Brother McLaughlin said there is a “heavy cloud” hanging over all railroaders in the area. Their thoughts and prayers have turned to the families of Brother Seeling and to William Wright, the conductor on Brother Seeling’s.
“We are coping with a great loss and everyone is very upset,” McLaughlin said. “The mood is somber. We’re concerned about the families of Chris and William, as well as the families of the other victims. We just have to work though this and come up with a way to run a safer railroad… not just for us but for the public as well.”
BLET National President Don M. Hahs ordered the flag over BLET headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, to be flown at half-mast in honor of Brother Seeling and all other BLET members who lost their lives in the line of duty.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, I send my deepest condolences to Brother Seeling’s family and friends,” President Hahs said.
Brother Seeling is the first BLET member killed in the line of duty in 2005. In 2004, eight BLET members were killed in on-the-job accidents.