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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Monday, October 23, 2006







Two photos | Brock Johnson

Derailed tank cars carrying ethanol continued to burn through Sunday along Norfolk Southern tracks in New Brighton, Pa. A high hill overlooking the Beaver River Bridge from a resident’s back yard offered this view.


























New Brighton residents return to homes

Most of the people living near the scene of Friday night’s fiery Norfolk Southern derailment in New Brighton, Pa., were back in their homes Sunday night, returning to their beds while one last ethanol-laden tank car continued to burn on a bridge over the Beaver River. The community is in Beaver County, about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

One track was reopened on Monday.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today emergency officials from Beaver County, the state and the National Transportation Safety Board met last night to discuss whether to let the fire, fueled by the ethanol within the car, burn itself out. The other option, according to Wes Hill, director of emergency services for Beaver County, would be to have firefighters move in to extinguish it.

Two freight cars remained in the Beaver River, below the trestle where the NS freight train, transporting 100,000 gallons of ethanol fuel from Chicago to New Jersey, derailed.

Three locomotives hauled the 89-car tank train, enroute from Chicago to New Jersey when it derailed. NTSB investigators removed data recorders from all three locomotives. A section of track was broken, officials said.

Earlier in the day, teams of men in hard hats worked within feet of two burning tank cars, draining the explosive ethanol and continuing the removal of more than 70 tanker cars from the site. Crews also used bulldozers and cranes to lay new tracks across the bridge.

“We’re still in a caution stage because we have fire burning and product in the [last] car,” Hill said Sunday night, “but things are progressing well.”

Although the derailment at 10:30 p.m. Friday produced a massive explosion that rocked the New Brighton and Beaver Falls neighborhoods, none of the train’s crew or the more-than-150 evacuated residents was injured.

Fire officials yesterday reduced the blocked-off “hot zone” to a three-block area of Second Avenue, about 100 feet from the derailment, affecting 10 families living in five duplexes.

Residents returning to homes inside the original one-square-mile evacuation zone were urged to park their vehicles outside the area and walk in.

New Brighton Borough Manager Larry Morley said NS had set up a family-assistance center at a local church.

NS officials asked business owners who suffered financial losses to contact the railroad at 1-800-230-7049, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

NS reported today in a service alert to customers, the derailment disrupted operations on two important NS routes “between Conway, Pa., and Fort Wayne, Ind., and between Conway, Pa., and Youngstown, Ohio.”

The freight hauler added, “Conditions at the site of the derailment are improving but delays on shipments normally moving over these routes should be expected.”

The line between Conway and Youngstown was reopened late Saturday and one of two mainlines between Conway and Fort Wayne reopened early Monday. However, trains moving through the area are operating at restricted speeds, due to continuing work on the second mainline between Conway and Ft. Wayne. Work to repair the line will continue over the next few days

The carrier added, “NS is now moving some traffic over normal routes but also continues to reroute some traffic normally moving over these routes via alternate routes on Norfolk Southern and other carriers. As repairs are made and conditions improve, all traffic will gradually shift to normal routes.”

State Route 18 in New Brighton opened to northbound and southbound traffic yesterday morning and Second Street in Beaver Falls also reopened.

The accident obliterated a length of track along the NS main line, closing a section used by 50 to 70 freight trains daily, as well as Amtrak passenger service, the Capitol Limited, which makes one round trip daily between Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Until the damaged section of track reopens, each one-way trip will take about 2-½ hours longer because the train is being detoured onto tracks between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.

Unofficial sources noted Westbound train No. 29 of October 21 reversed out of Pittsburgh one mile to Field, then west on Allegheny Valley Ry. to Bakerstown, then Buffalo and Pittsburgh Ry. to New Castle, NS to Youngstown Center and to Ashtabula. The stop at Alliance was missed and “taxi-stuted.”

Train No. 30 operated the detour in reverse.

The service disruptions on Friday did not go well. The equipment that was originally No. 30 of the 20th turned at Cleveland and returned to Chicago at 4:55 p.m.

Buses from Pittsburgh arrived in Chicago between 9:30 p.m. and 11:20 p.m. Thirty passengers on No. 30 missed all connections in Washington after No 29 turned in Pittsburgh, departed eight hours late, and then hit a tree in Rockville, Md. It finally arrived in Washington about 12 hours late.

The NTSB has not yet determined the extent of structural damage to the Beaver Falls-New Brighton Bridge, which was littered yesterday with twisted tracks and splintered guardrails. The riverbed resembled a junkyard filled with pairs of sheared-off train wheels on their axles.

NTSB Vice Chairman Robert Sumwalt said that a section of damaged track from the bridge was shipped to Washington, D.C., to determine whether it was damaged before or by the derailment.

He said FBI officials, who are routinely called in for NTSB investigations, did not believe “any sort of sabotage” prompted the derailment

Preliminary indications from the train’s data recorders showed that the train was traveling 36 to 39 mph when it crashed, Sumwalt said. The speed limit is 45 mph along the rail bridge over the Beaver River.

Sumwalt said the train’s crew had told investigators the train was running well until it automatically applied emergency brakes because airbrake lines between cars had been severed.

“They looked behind them, they saw the train was on fire,” he said. “The engineer contacted 911, he contacted the dispatcher, and then they evacuated the locomotive cab and got... about a half-mile away from it.”

Federal investigators worked throughout the day yesterday making diagrams of the wreckage and recording the positions of the cars for later analysis, he said.

NS spokesman Rudy Husband said company officials inspect mainline tracks like the ones on the bridge at least twice a week. He added that 50 to 70 trains use the tracks each day.

Local officials are focusing on a dangerous situation that they said could have been much worse.

“I think we dodged a bullet here,” said New Brighton Mayor Rick Smith.

“You had the antithesis of ‘A Perfect Storm,’ “ said Beaver County Commissioner Charles Camp.

He explained that because the river level was high and ethanol is not the most dangerous fuel, there was minimal harm to animal and plant life. He also noted that the bridge is on the northernmost edge of town, away from most homes and businesses.

Betsy Mallison, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said there had been no disruption to public water supplies and minimal environmental impact. Some aqueous white foam used to suppress the ethanol vapors was being cleared from the river, she said.

In terms of nostalgic value, locals said, the greatest loss was “Big Rock,” a giant boulder at the riverside that was a popular diving spot for swimmers. The rock, at the entrance to Big Rock Park, was shattered by the toppling freight cars.

On Saturday night, emergency crews in New Brighton began the delicate task of unloading nearly 100,000 gallons of the explosive chemical from overturned tank cars, while several others blazed nearby.

It was part of a systematic plan to put out a fire that had burned for a day. The wreck also stalled east-west traffic on one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the NS system.

Neither the train crew nor anyone in the town was injured, officials said, but hundreds of residents who live within a one-mile radius of the derailment were evacuated from their homes. They were allowed to return briefly last night to grab essential items, then most were sent off to hotels or relatives’ homes. Residents from about 45 homes on Fifth and Sixth Avenues were allowed to return for good later in the evening.

“We have people in and around each of the cars,” said Wes Hill, director of emergency management for Beaver County. “There’s always a risk anytime you’re dealing with these cars.”

The emergency workers converged on the site after 23 cars derailed just inside the borough limits. Moments later, a colossal fireball illuminated the night and sent hundreds of residents from their homes within the one-mile radius.

Hill said the process would take time.

“They were full cars,” he said. Each tank car was capable of holding 30,000 gallons of ethanol, a processed grain alcohol widely used as a gasoline supplement. The train was eastbound from a western refinery en route to a shipping point in New Jersey.

The cars that stayed on the tracks were hauled from the scene Saturday. Of the 23 derailed cars, some lay on their sides alongside the eastbound tracks, while others were jumbled at sharp angles after dropping from the bridge.

Earth in a park adjacent to the scene was saturated with the alcohol compound and a section of a brick foundation at the base of the bridge was dotted with flames where pockets of the ethanol had spilled.

Atop the bridge, wooden crossties smoldered and firefighters were posted nearby to make certain they did not erupt into full flame, imperiling tankers atop them.

By 5 p.m. Saturday, NS crews were moving heavy cranes to the scene to remove four cars that had tipped over in a row after they had crossed the bridge. Another crew shuttled empty tank trucks to and from the foot of the hill on which the tracks run to begin emptying a car that blazed from the top.

The touch-and-go procedure involved draining that tank car from the bottom and pumping it full of chemical foam. Then the contents of the other three cars were to be pumped into empty tankers moved up on parallel tracks.

At that point, the cranes moved in to lower the empty cars down some steps to be cut into the hillside below the tracks. A cutting machine was to be set up in the park below, and the $50,000 tank cars were to be cut into scrap and hauled away.

Commuter train hits truck, derails; injures 20

Rescue crews took up to 20 people to hospitals with minor injuries this morning after an inbound commuter train collided with a flatbed truck at a rail crossing in Franklin, Mass., according to fire and transit officials.

The truck was carrying a piece of construction equipment with a bucket loader and got struck at a rail crossing at Fisher Street, according to Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The driver got out of the truck and walked down the track to try to alert an approaching train, according to The Boston Globe.

“The engineer immediately began to apply emergency brake but was unable to stop the train before it collided with the truck,” Pesaturo said.

When the train hit the truck at about 7:52 a.m., the bucket loader swung around and hit the middle of the first car of the train. About 20 people who had been riding in the first car were taken to local hospitals with minor injuries, Pesaturo said.

The train derailed as a result of the accident and will be stuck at the Fisher Street rail crossing for some time, Pesaturo said. The train had just begun its run back to Boston.

Not a good day at Amtrak, either

Broken engines delay some Amtrak trains

Amtrak Regional Train No. 167 of October 22 was delayed departing Boston’s South Station because its scheduled engine, No. 658 (an HHP-8) was unavailable and shopped in South Hampton St. Yard. The was held an hour and 24 minutes until another HHP-8, No. 653, could be taken off the consist of No. 67 as a replacement.

Sources said as of this morning, 36 of the 49 AEM-7s on roster were available for service, but only seven of the 13 HHP-8s on roster were available. Both are within Amtrak’s “quota” for power availability. That means Amtrak’s “quota” for availability on the HHP-8 is less than half of its fleet: six out of 13.

Elsewhere, on October 22 at 3:45 p.m., CSX shut down train movement on its South End Subdivision at Rocky Mount, N.C., for investigation of a light aircraft crash with debris fouling both main tracks. CSX established single-track routing through the Rocky Mount freight yard and provided pilots for Amtrak movements through the yard.

Trains were able to stop at the Rocky Mount station. Trains 53, 70, 91, 97 and 98 were delayed from 10 to 38 minutes. The main tracks reopened at restricted speed at 10:20 p.m., but major congestion and delays due to backed-up freight traffic was expected.

Bombardier launches tender offers

Bombardier Inc. and Bombardier Capital Funding LP said today that they have launched “tender offers for any and all of the outstanding €500 million 6.125 percent notes due 2007 issued in Europe by Bombardier Capital Funding LP and a principal amount to be determined of the €500 million 5.75 percent notes due 2008 issued in Europe by Bombardier Inc.

$1 exchanged for €0.79286; 1 was worth $1.26126 at 3:15 p.m. today.

The minimum target amount of the tender offers is €500 million with the exact aggregate repurchase amount to be announced on the business day following the expiration date of the tender offers, being November 13. Settlement is expected on November 17, unless the tender offers are extended or terminated.

Details on the terms, conditions and restrictions relating to the tender offers are contained in the Invitation Memorandum dated October 23, Bombardier stated. The tender offers are not open to U.S. persons or persons located or resident in the United States or Italy.

“The purpose of the tender offers is to take advantage of current favorable conditions in the debt capital markets and to extend the Bombardier’s debt maturity profile by refinancing” the 2007 and 2008 notes with longer maturity securities. The tender offers are conditional upon completion of and will be funded with a portion of the proceeds of a proposed new issue of notes by Bombardier Inc., which is expected to be launched soon.

Bombardier said it expects to complete the issue of notes before the settlement of the tender offers, subject to market conditions. The new issue will not be registered under the securities laws of any jurisdiction and cannot be offered or sold in any jurisdiction without registration or an applicable exemption for registration requirements.

Deutsche Bank is acting as sole dealer-manager.

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