Twenty-one cars of a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train barreled off the tracks on a curve in Vandergrift on Thursday, many of them tumbling onto their sides.
No one was hurt and a thick crude oil that leaked from four of the derailed cars was contained before it could enter drains or the nearby Kiskiminetas River.
At least one railcar struck a building that houses a specialty metals company, MSI Corp., on First Street. The building was evacuated as a precaution.
No injuries reported after freight train derails
Twenty-one cars of a freight train hauling oil and gas derailed this morning in Vandergrift, striking a building that houses a specialty metals firm, authorities said. (Video by Darrell Sapp; 2/13/2014)
The derailment occurred on the outskirts of the Westmoreland County town. "If it was to happen, this is probably one of the better places for it to happen," said Dan Stephens, public safety spokesman for Westmoreland County.
Witnesses at MSI said the crash demolished equipment used to mill steel blocks down to customer specifications. Employees said they heard a tremendous crash and speculated right away that a train had derailed outside.
Hazmat crews responded and the state Department of Environmental Protection sent a emergency response team after reports that oil was leaking.
The 120-car train with three locomotives was headed east around 8 a.m. when it derailed. Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said 19 of the derailed cars carried a type of oil that is thick enough to be lifted with a shovel.
DEP spokesman John Poister said three railcars had minor leaks of crude oil, but a fourth split open, losing several thousand gallons. "The saving grace for us was when the crude hit the snow, it congealed," he said.
Two other derailed cars had liquid propane.
Mr. Poister said as a precaution, the agency notified water companies with intakes downstream of the incident scene.
Two railroad contractors were called to the scene to begin cleanup. Mr. Pidgeon said he did not know how long it would take to clear the wreckage but Mr. Stevens said "it's going to be a long and tedious process."
Mr. Pidgeon said the railroad would investigate the cause of the derailment. "We will look at all human and non-human factors," he said.
In a statement, the railroad said most of the crude spilled in the parking lot of MSI Corp. A small amount of soil was impacted and will be excavated for proper disposal.
Heavy equipment was lifting the derailed rail cars to the sides of the railroad tracks to assess damages. This also will allow the railroad to make track repairs, the statement said. Once all the cars are off the tracks, the railroad will move the crude oil from each car into trucks for transportation off site.
The train was transporting Canadian heavy crude oil, liquid propane, soda ash and food products. "We extend our apologies to MSI for the disruption to their business operations ... and we also extend our thanks to the local emergency responders and city, county and state agencies for their quick response," the railroad said.