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Published: 12/2/2006

Derailment probe cites loose chain

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Cleanup work continues at the site in downtown North Baltimore where 20 cars from two freight trains derailed Thursday. Cleanup work continues at the site in downtown North Baltimore where 20 cars from two freight trains derailed Thursday.
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Wheels from railcars that derailed are strewn around the
accident scene as crews remove debris. Both of the mainline CSX tracks involved in the incident reopened yesterday. Wheels from railcars that derailed are strewn around the accident scene as crews remove debris. Both of the mainline CSX tracks involved in the incident reopened yesterday.
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A chain dragging from a railroad car appears to have caused a two-train derailment Thursday afternoon in North Baltimore that injured three motorists, including one seriously, according to a preliminary investigation report.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio report states that the chain, dragging from the south side of the fifth car in a westbound CSX Transportation Corp. train, snagged the handle on a switch for a side track leading to a nearby grain elevator and yanked the switch loose.

That force was enough to cause the switch rails to change position under the moving train, causing 12 cars to enter the side track and derail, piling up near the North Tarr Street crossing.

Matt Butler, a PUCO spokesman, emphasized that the finding was preliminary and that his agency is assisting the Federal Railroad Administration with their investigation.

But the report is consistent with witnesses reports to authorities that train cars began entering the side track after the engines and first few cars of the train had passed the switch.

The report said the train was moving at 47 mph. The speed limit on that stretch of track is 60 mph.

Warren Flatau, a railroad administration spokesman, declined to comment on the preliminary report yesterday except to say that if a dragging chain is suspected as a cause for the crash, the next question would be, why was the chain dragging?

Mr. Flatau said his agency sent four investigators to the accident scene, each a specialist in one of the following fields: track inspection, operating practices inspection, signals and train control, and grade-crossing safety.

Gary Sease, a CSX spokesman, confirmed the finding and said a directive has been issued to employees emphasizing that all tie-down devices [on railcars] are to be secured properly.

Furthermore, Mr. Sease said, the railroad will modify all similarly situated switches so their handles are pointed away from the direction that a train would travel to enter a side track. Something dragging from a train traveling in the opposite direction still could snag and move the switch, but the wheels of a train traveling away from a side track would act to push the switch rails back into proper alignment.

Three vehicles waiting at the North Tarr crossing were struck either by sliding freight cars or, in one case, a 1,200-square-foot steel plate that had been on one of the cars. Also struck by the derailment were several cars of an eastbound coal train on a parallel track, five of whose cars jumped the track as well.

Of the three drivers, one, Robert Loe, 48, of North Baltimore, was injured seriously enough to be admitted to a hospital. Mr. Loe, who according to the PUCO report suffered a broken collarbone and a lung laceration, was taken first to Wood County Hospital in Bowling Green and later transferred to University Medical Center in Toledo.

The other two motorists were treated for minor injuries at Blanchard Valley Regional Health Center in Findlay. No one aboard either train was injured.

Damage was estimated at $500,000 by the PUCO.

The tracks involved in the accident are among the busiest in the country, with about 75 freight trains using them on a typical day. Mr. Sease said cleanup contractors summoned to the scene after the accident at 12:18 p.m. Thursday reopened one of two mainline tracks at 1:45 a.m. yesterday, and reopened the second at 3:25 a.m.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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