Longtime Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum employee killed in shop accident

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum / Longtime Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum employee George Walker was killed Wednesday in an accident at the museum's restoration shop in Chattanooga. Walker was the museum's general manager of passenger operations.

A longtime employee of Chattanooga's Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was killed Wednesday in an accident at a shop where old railroad equipment is restored, a museum spokeswoman said.

"The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum family is heartbroken by the passing of longtime employee George Walker," museum spokeswoman Penelope Soule Gault wrote Wednesday in a post on the museum's social media page. "He was involved in a tragic accident at the shop. At this time no other details are available. Please keep Mary, Andrew, Aaron and Charlie in your prayers as they deal with this tragic loss."

Mary is Walker's wife, Andrew and Aaron are his sons and Charlie is his brother, according to Gault.

Gault said Thursday in an email the Chattanooga Police Department and the Tennessee Occupation Safety and Health Administration are investigating the incident.

Chattanooga Police spokesman Sydney Hamon said Wednesday in an email that no details could be released until the investigation is complete. However, Hamon noted there was no reason to believe Walker's death was anything but accidental.

Chris Cannon, a spokesman for TOSHA, said the matter is under investigation.

"During the investigative process, TOSHA typically surveys the location of the incident, reviews company records, and procedures, and then will conduct interviews with management and employees," Cannon said. "A fatality investigation can take between eight and 10 weeks to complete."

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Walker grew up with a strong interest in railroading, Gault said Thursday in an email. Louisville & Nashville Railroad's Sequatchie Valley branch line ran through his family's Marion County property in Whitwell, Tennessee, she said.

In 1970, Walker's father took him on his first excursion behind Locomotive No. 4501 when he was 6 years old, Gault said.

In 1981, Walker began volunteering at the museum, and after he graduated from high school in 1982, he was hired on by a company that was a part of Norfolk Southern's steam excursion program based out of Birmingham, Alabama, according to Gault. In 1989, he moved back to Chattanooga after accepting the shop foreman position at the museum.

"George has been an integral part of the TVRM team as general manager of passenger operations, and a most passionate supporter of rail preservation," Gault said. "We will not be the same without him."

Former Chattanooga Times Free Press photographer John Coniglio, a longtime train lover and member of the museum's extended family, called for prayers for grieving family and friends and wrote of the magnitude of the loss for the museum family and the role Walker played there.

"George was a good man, humble and dependable, and a role model for anyone aspiring to work in railroading," Coniglio wrote on Facebook. "This is a sudden and tragic loss for his family and friends, and for railroad preservation. We will carry on his legacy."

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.