Federal agency to probe freight train derailment in Vandergrift

The Federal Railroad Administration will investigate Thursday’s derailment of 21 cars from a Norfolk Southern Railway train in Vandergrift.

“Safety is our first priority, and we have dispatched an investigator to the derailment scene … The Federal Railroad Administration will conduct a thorough investigation to identify the root cause of the accident,” the agency said in a prepared statement.

The FRA strives to complete its investigations within nine months.

The 120-car train with three locomotives was bound for New Jersey when it derailed on a curve about 8 a.m. It caused a spill of 3,500 to 4,500 gallons of thick crude oil. The spill was contained and none of the oil entered drains or water supplies. No one was hurt.

Two derailed cars struck a building housing specialty metals company MSI Corp. on First Street. The building was evacuated as a precaution.

The railroad had moved all the derailed cars away from the track by Friday afternoon and was emptying them of crude oil and butane. It said it hoped to restore 1,250 feet of damaged track and resume rail operations in the corridor by early Saturday. The railroad said most of the crude spilled in the parking lot of MSI. A small amount of soil was drenched and will be excavated for proper disposal.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon said the railroad also will conduct an investigation and will cooperate with federal authorities.

The FRA investigates about 100 train accidents per year, including any accident involving fatalities of railroad workers. Upon conclusion, it will issue a written report citing the cause and any contributing factors.

Investigations typically include inspections, interviews with crew members, reviews of safety procedures and analysis of data from the locomotive event recorder known as the “black box.”

Recommended corrective actions may include simple repairs; changes in inspection procedures or operating rules; or new federal regulations or safety standards.

The derailment was the latest in a series of rail accidents involving shipments of crude oil that have increased dramatically with drilling in the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana.

• In January, seven cars of a 101-car CSX freight train left the tracks on a bridge over the Schuylkill River and the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, forcing the closure of the busy highway for a time. The incident left an oil tanker and boxcar leaning sideways over the side of the bridge.

• On Dec. 30, an oil train collided with a derailed car from another train outside Casselton, N.D. The crash spilled more than 400,000 gallons of oil, generated a fireball and forced the evacuation of 1,400 people within a 5-mile radius.

• In November, an oil train derailed in rural Alabama and burst into flames that took several days to extinguish.

• In July, a runaway oil train exploded in Canada, killing 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

The Kansas City Star reported in January that more crude oil was spilled in U.S. train incidents last year than in the nearly 40 years that preceded it. Using data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the newspaper said more than 1.15 million gallons were spilled in 2013, compared with 800,000 gallons spilled in the years 1975 to 2012.



Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1868 and on Twitter @pgtraffic. First Published February 14, 2014 11:15 AM

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