Cleanup continues after train derailment injures 2 in Sewickley

Diesel fuel spilled, homes evacuated

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Cleanup continues this morning of diesel fuel spilled after two trains collided Wednesday in Sewickley, causing a derailment and fire that injured two train workers and forced the evacuation of many homes and businesses, Allegheny County officials said.

Three of the locomotives on an empty, westbound Norfolk Southern train derailed at 1:43 p.m. when the train hit the end of another Norfolk Southern train that was stopped or moving slowly near Chadwick Street, said Alvin Henderson, county emergency medical services chief.

In the rear train, two people were in the lead locomotive, which left the tracks and flipped on its side, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. The two crawled from the locomotive, and they were taken to Allegheny General Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, he said. An engineer was hospitalized, and a conductor was treated and released, Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said.

Rich Fitzgerald offers details on train collision

A train collision in Sewickley caused a derailment and fire that injured two train workers. Nearby residents were evacuated for a short time. (Video by Nate Guidry; 7/2/2014)

In the crash, a diesel tank in the lead locomotive ruptured and caught fire. The fire was extinguished, but Mr. Henderson said crews were working Wednesday afternoon to clean up about 6,000 gallons of diesel that had leaked.

Diesel is not thought to have entered the nearby Ohio River nor a local residential area, Mr. Fitzgerald said. No one downstream will be affected, he said.

“It could have been a lot worse,” the county executive said.

The intermodal freight train that was struck had two locomotives and 56 intermodal cars, Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said. One empty car on that train derailed, she said. An intermodal train carries trailers that upon unloading can be hitched to a tractor truck for further transit.

The second train consisted of the three locomotives that derailed — one Norfolk Southern locomotive and two from Union Pacific — and 79 cars, some of which were empty ethanol tank cars. The train had a “buffer car” between the locomotives and the empty tankers, and that protected the tankers, Mr. Henderson said.

Ms. Terpay said Norfolk Southern will inspect the rail cars and locomotives, re-rail equipment and make necessary track repairs.

It can take weeks, if not longer, to determine the cause of the crash, Mr. Husband said. Federal Railroad Administration employees were onsite Wednesday night, he said. A representative from the national agency could not be reached for comment.

Allegheny County crews practice train derailment scenarios, and Wednesday’‍s effort was that “plan being set into motion,” Mr. Henderson said. Nearly 100 responders were on the scene.

“I think the way they worked together was outstanding,” Edgeworth police chief John English said. In his 13 years as chief, he said he had never seen a derailment.

Some first responders were treated for heat- and smoke-related ailments, Mr. Henderson said, explaining that the hot, humid day proved challenging for the crews.

Businesses and homes were evacuated for several hours. No residents were injured.

Mona Smith, 58, of Sewickley and about a dozen other people, including children, were at the nearby Sewickley Community Center pool when the derailment occurred. A staff member at the community center safely evacuated everyone, she said.

Ms. Smith said she saw the “biggest ball of flame I’ve ever seen in my life,” before a cloud of black smoke rose above the area and moved toward Edgeworth.

Sharon Maher, 55, Sewickley Heights, said she could feel the heat from the fire at the pool and that she was horrified and felt sick from the incident.

“It’s something you’ll never forget,” she said.

About three train derailments are reported each day in the U.S, said Eric Weiss, a National Safety Transportation Board spokesman.

Lexi Bel­cul­fine: lbel­cul­fine@post-ga­ or 412-263-1878. Twit­ter: @Lex­iBelc. Wes­ley Yiin: wyiin@post-ga­ or 412-263-1723. First Published July 2, 2014 12:00 AM

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