Friday, August 4, 2017

SULFUR IN THE AIR: Nearly three dozen rail cars carrying gas and sulfur on a CSX Corp freight train skidded off the tracks and burst into flames in Hyndman, Pennsylvania, entire town evacuated


Nearly three dozen cars of a freight train carrying hazardous materials careened off the tracks in a small Pennsylvania town Wednesday, igniting fires in some rail cars and a garage and forcing emergency officials to evacuate the whole town.

No injuries were reported.

At least 32 cars on the CSX freight train derailed about 5 a.m. in Hyndman, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Pittsburgh, said CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle. The train was traveling from Chicago to Selkirk, New York.

At least one car containing liquid petroleum gas, and one containing molten sulfur leaked and caught fire, Doolittle said. A residential garage struck during the derailment also caught fire, officials said.

It was not immediately known what caused the train to run off the rails, and the fire continued to burn hours after the derailment.

The only confirmed structure fire was at the garage, but video from the scene seems to show more extensive damage.

Aerial footage of the derailment shows a number of cars stacked nearly perpendicular to the tracks while others landed in a burning, zig-zag pattern in a residential area where some structures seemed crushed and other ablaze.

Hyndman resident Jim Shaffer told the (Cumberland) Times-News he was awakened by the sound of crashing rail cars.

"It woke me up. It was louder than a thunderstorm," he said. "I heard the cars banging into each other. Then I heard the fire whistle."

Bedford County 911 coordinator Harry Corley said officials ordered everyone within a 1-mile radius of the derailment to leave hours after the derailment. The order encompasses the entire town of Hyndman, and residents have been directed to a local church for help with lodging and food.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, in a phone interview from the evacuation center several miles away from the train, said some neighbors have refused to leave their homes.

"But everyone knows where they are and they're safe at this point," Wolf said Wednesday afternoon.

Only a few people were in the church, as most evacuees chose to go to hotels or the homes of friends or relatives, he said.

Wolf said officials were conducting air and ground studies to determine possible health effects.

He said area residents have "a lot of uncertainty and everyone's hoping for the best, praying for the best."

Asked about the risk of a propane explosion, Wolf said, "There's always that possibility. I think, from what I hear, the potential of that happening has diminished somewhat."

A number of roads are closed, and some flight restrictions are in place.

Federal investigators arrived at the scene late Wednesday afternoon but weren't able to assess the situation because the fires were still burning.

The National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams said he expects them to get a better sense of the scene by Thursday.

Amtrak suspended train service between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., providing buses to take passengers between the two stations.

"CSX apologizes for the impact that this incident is having on the residents of Hyndman," Doolittle said.

Hyndman is a town of just over 800 residents near the Maryland border.

"CSX's top priority is to work cooperatively with first responders and other officials to protect the public's safety, and CSX personnel are on the scene assisting first responders, providing information about the contents of the train and expertise on responding to railroad incidents," Doolittle said.


Hyndman, Pa. (Reuters) - Rail cars carrying gas and sulfur on a CSX Corp freight train skidded off the tracks and burst into flames on Wednesday in a small Pennsylvania town, forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes as firefighters fought the blaze.

No injuries were reported after the crash in Hyndman, about 100 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. CSX warned customers service disruptions would last for a week over a nearly 80-mile stretch between Connellsville, Pennsylvania, and Cumberland, Maryland.

CSX said 32 cars derailed as the train moved through the town just before 5 a.m. There was no word on what caused the crash.

A freight car skidded into a garage that caught fire, and at least two train cars were still ablaze almost 12 hours later, said Bedford County emergency dispatcher Mike Steele.

CSX said one rail car containing liquefied petroleum gas and one car containing molten sulfur leaked and were on fire.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of residents in a one-mile radius, which encompasses most of the town, as emergency crews worried about the risk of an explosion, Steele said.

Among the residents driving out of town was 53-year-old Shannon Shoemaker, who said his whole family lives within 100 yards of the derailment site.

"They all got out safely, thank God for that," Shoemaker said.

This was the third derailment for a CSX train since last November. It came two days after CSX Corp CEO Hunter Harrison apologized to customers for service disruptions and said some railroad employees were resisting planned cost-cutting measures.

The train of five locomotives and 178 rail cars was traveling from Chicago to Selkirk, New York, CSX said. It said 128 cars carried mixed freight, including construction materials, paper and wood pulp.
Friends and Hyndman residents, Robin Stair, 42 (R), Shannon Shoemaker, 53, and Stair’s dog Boe wait for a friend in a church parking lot several miles outside of an area where a CSX Corp freight train carrying flammable materials derailed as it moved through Hyndman, Pennsylvania, U.S., August 2, 2017.Maranie Staab

John Risch, spokesman for the transportation division of the SMART Union, which represents CSX conductors, said it is incredibly difficult for a small crew to handle a train with 178 cars.

"It's hard to keep track of where the train is, especially as it snakes behind you for more than two miles," Risch said by phone. "I am not suggesting the length of the train caused the accident but it could have been a contributing factor."

On Monday, Harrison, the CSX chief executive officer, told customers in a memo that some employees were resisting aggressive cost-cutting measures at the No. 3 U.S. railroad.

Authorities closed roads and issued temporary restrictions on low-flying aircraft, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's office said, adding that Wolf was on scene in Hyndman. No public water supplies or waterways were affected, his office said.

The governor's office said about 1,000 people had to leave their homes. An emergency shelter was assembled at a local school, staffed by aid workers from the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, authorities said.

CSX said company hazardous substance experts were working with firefighters at the scene to contain leaks and minimize environmental damage.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration were in Hyndman, the agencies said.

In March, a CSX freight train containing sulfuric acid and other dangerous materials partially derailed near Newburgh, New York, though the dangerous substances did not leak. Last November, two CSX trains collided and derailed in central Florida, injuring two crew members.

The probes into those incidents were still under way, said Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Warren Flatau.

After the New York incident, the Times Herald-Record newspaper cited officials and witnesses as saying the train derailed after striking a forklift being driven across the tracks.