The fiery collision happened Friday afternoon in Porter County about six miles northwest of Valparaiso.
Hours after the crash, smoke continued to pour from the scene of the wreck, although the smoke seemed to be largely under control by 10 p.m. with only wisps of smoke coming from the scene. Authorities brought in lights, towers and cranes to begin investigating and cleaning up the wreckage.
Authorities believe that what was burning was mostly diesel fuel and poses no danger to nearby residents. Nevertheless, they evacuated homes within a mile of the site because of fears of hazardous materials escaping the train's tanker cars.
"We had empty ethanol tankers that were on the first stopped train; the most they would have had was residual ethanol in them, which is definitely good for what we had here today," said Sgt. Larry LaFlower of the Porter County Sheriff's Dept.
Witnesses say a westbound train was stopped on the tracks when another train barreled into it from behind, piling up cars into the field and onto the parallel tracks where another train came moments later, crashing into the other cars.
Two railroad employees were injured and were taken to Porter County Hospital.
First responder Jim Sherrick lives nearby and was one of the first emergency personnel on the scene. He also took some photographs of the scene.
"It looks like a child had fun with his model train - or got upset with his model train," said Sherrick. "It is quite a mess, but we're really lucky that nothing worse happened."
The trains are operated by CSX. A spokesperson issued a statement Friday night, saying: "We are working to determine the total number of derailed cars. No significant leaks or spills of hazardous materials appear to have occurred but inspections of all loaded and empty hazardous materials cars are under way."
Once firefighters clear the immediate danger, the clean-up will begin in earnest.
"NTSB, I was told - and they have two officials on scene right now, they will be heading this investigation up as to the cause of the crash," said LaFlower.
The team of NTSB investigators had taken over the scene by 10 p.m. Friday, and the man in charge of the investigation was on his way from Los Angeles and due to arrive late Friday evening. They will be charged with determining what happened and if anyone was at fault.
"Three CSX trains collided in Porter County in Northwest Indiana, about 2:15 p.m. (EST) Friday. Two employees on one train had non-life threatening injuries and have been taken to an area hospital. The trains carried a wide variety of freight including 3 rail cars of flammable products. Also in the incident are a number of empty hazardous materials cars.
CSX is working with local relief agencies to support area residents who have been evacuated. The company's primary focus is public safety and working closely with responders to bring this situation under control.
We are working to determine the total number of derailed cars. No significant leaks or spills of hazardous materials appear to have occurred but inspections of all loaded and empty hazardous materials cars are under way. An investigation to determine what happened is also under way.
We deeply appreciate the rapid and thorough response of the area's police, fire and other first responders."