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Crews work to clean up derailment



Published: Mon, October 23, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Data recorders from the train will be examined to find the cause of the wreck.

NEW BRIGHTON, Pa. (AP) -- Railroad crews worked to clear the wreckage of a derailed train Sunday as evacuated residents began returning to homes near the bridge where nearly two dozen railroad cars ran off the tracks and several burst into flames.

The train pulling 86 tanker cars was traveling from Chicago to New Jersey when 23 cars from its midsection derailed Friday in southwest Pennsylvania. At least nine cars leaked ethanol, also known as grain alcohol, and caught fire. No one was injured.

About 50 nearby residents were evacuated for fear of possible explosions. Most were allowed to return home Sunday, except for about 10 families.

"The area that we are restricting at this time is the area immediately adjacent to the existing site," said New Brighton Borough Manager Larry Morley.

Fire Chief Jeffrey Bolland said four or five homes would remain off limits while firefighters continue working. One tanker car from the toppled train were still burning Sunday and others had been removed from the tracks and stacked nearby, said Morley.

Help for families

A family assistance center was set up at a church, where Norfolk Southern representatives offered to compensate residents who had to spend the night in hotels and pay for meals away from home.

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

Robert Sumwalt, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said late Sunday the train's crew told investigators the train was running well until it automatically applied emergency brakes because pneumatic brake 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 cabin."

It was unclear what role the severed brakes played in the accident, or how they became severed.

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.

Soil contamination

Betsey Mallison, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said her agency was working with Norfolk Southern to clean up some soil contamination, but "we don't expect any problems with any water supplies."

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband would not comment on the condition of the half-mile long bridge before the accident, but said company officials inspect mainline tracks like the ones on the bridge at least twice a week.

Railroad engineers will examine the bridge for structural soundness, but Sumwalt said they cannot conduct inspections until the burning cars are removed.

NTSB officials planned to gather maintenance records and interview witnesses, including train crew members.

The derailment happened about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh on tracks used by 50 to 70 trains each day. Husband said officials were working on a detour plan.

The derailment was affecting Amtrak's Capitol Limited, which makes one round trip daily between Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Until that section of track reopens, each one-way trip will take about 21/2 hours longer because the train is being detoured onto tracks between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.

Also Sunday, a train carrying a potentially flammable liquid derailed near a residential area in southwest Arkansas, causing churches to cancel services and prompting evacuation orders for as many as 75 people. No injuries were reported.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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