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Train Derailment Underscores Efforts

By Staff | Dec 30, 2015

Photo by Miles Layton First responders including a hazardous materials technicians investigated a train derailment last week in New Martinsville. Rail cars carrying propane gas derailed in the south end of the city. No one was hurt and no gas was released.

A recent train derailment in New Martinsville underscored the planning that takes place by first responders.

Though no one was hurt and no hazardous chemicals were released when train cars hauling liquefied petroleum gas derailed Dec. 24 near a neighborhood on the south side of town, the situation gives emergency planners pause to reflect on their strategies for dealing with a potential crisis.

“I believe our response would be about the same as Wetzel County,” said Tom Cooper, director of Tyler County’s Office of Emergency Management. “Our responders would evaluate the scene for immediate life and safety issues, evacuating and issuing Shelter in Place notices where necessary.”

Trains carrying hazardous materials utilize railroad tracks that cross through the heart of Sistersville

“We do have a lot of nasty chemicals going through the county,” Cooper said. “I’ve always had concerns with the the crossing in Sistersville, but fortunately the trains go very slow and the sharp turns north and south of the tracks keep the road traffic moving slowly through the crossing in town. CSX maintains a good safety record while moving large volumes of chemicals around the country.”

Last week, CSX was quick to evaluate and take proactive steps after 10 rail cars carrying liquefied propane gas derailed early Thursday morning near the Brooklyn rail yard – four of those cars were on their sides along the tracks.

The Wetzel County Office of Emergency Management as well as the Sheriff’s Department and New Martinsville Police Department were prepared for an evacuation in the event it was warranted. State officials including the State Emergency Operations Center and the Department of Environmental Protection were also notified, according to a press release issued Dec. 25 by the New Martinsville Volunteer Fire Department.

NMVFD Fire Chief Larry Couch said the neighborhood was not in any danger.

Couch said he does not know what caused the accident, but the CSX and the Federal Railroad Administration are investigating.

NMVFD was assisted by the Paden City Volunteer Fire Company, New Martinsville Police Department, Wetzel County EMS and Wetzel County Office of Emergency Management.

NMVFD’s press release details the response by city and Wetzel County first responders after the incident occurred around 2:56 p.m. Dec. 24 in the Brooklyn rail yard.

Couch wrote in the press release that there was an initial conference call with CSX personnel in Jacksonburg, Fla., at 4:01 a.m and they had already deployed their emergency response team as well as contractors to handle the incident and restore the rail to an operable condition. He said after a briefing with CSX Officials, fire crews were deployed in full protective gear, thermal imaging camera’s and multiple gas monitors to assess the rail cars for damage, possible leaking and to assure their integrity,.

NMVFD personnel trained as hazardous materials technicians, including one of those who has specialized training in railroad incidents, performed the initial and follow-up evaluations after which it was concluded that the incident posed no immediate threat to the community, Couch wrote in the release. CSX deployed an emergency response crew involving hazardous materials personnel and contractors to re-right the rail cars and repair the tracks. During the time prior to the arrival of those crews, firefighters performed a secondary and follow-up evaluation of the wrecked cars which continued to remain intact with no leaks of the product which they were carrying.

NMVFD personnel completed the third evaluation of the railcars at 4:56 a.m., the release said. CSX responders and contractor’s began arriving at 5:05 a.m.. A unified effort between NMVFD and CSX was established and the CSX personnel took-over the incident at 7:03 a.m. with the fire department receiving updates throughout the day from CSX, Couch wrote.

Cooper gives credit to CSX for its response capabilities.

“I’ve trained with CSX and they have an unbelievable response capability,” he said. “The resources they can bring in are amazing. Since they are a nationwide company, they see and react to accidents often. Their teams are trained to the same standards as our local responders. During their exercises they indicate that they can come in and work with the local responders or if necessary they can quickly take control of the entire situation.”

The release said the fire department was notified at 5:36 p.m. that all of the railcars had been returned to the tracks and that track repairs would occur in the coming days. Couch wrote this was a low speed style incident that left the rail cars with no real structural damage. Couch said the fire department, CSX and a CSX contractor all concluded that there was no problem with the integrity of the cars’ steel casings.

“These cars are built incredibly tough, as long as the shells and loading components remain intact, they simply need to be re-righted and placed back onto their trucks and the track,” Couch wrote. “We were planning for the need of an evacuation though no such action was deemed necessary.”

The person who was initially reported to have been exposed to liquid propane was evaluated at the scene and did not require further hospital evaluation or transport from the scene by EMS, according to the press release. This person displayed no signs or symptoms of such an exposure and the scene indicated no signs of such a release having occurred, according to the release. The person’s name has not been released to the media.

“Often times in the initial stages of an emergency there will be miscommunication or misunderstanding of what is really happening at the scene” Couch wrote. “That appears to have been the case in this incident.”