Schools shut as toxic levels rise after New Jersey train wreck

PHILADELPHIA Mon Dec 3, 2012 1:22pm EST

Derailed freight train cars sit semi-submerged in the waters of Mantua Creek after a train crash in Paulsboro, New Jersey November 30, 2012. A rail bridge collapsed on Friday over a creek in southern New Jersey, causing a Conrail freight train to derail and spill hazardous chemicals into the air and water, authorities said. REUTERS/Andrew Burton

Derailed freight train cars sit semi-submerged in the waters of Mantua Creek after a train crash in Paulsboro, New Jersey November 30, 2012. A rail bridge collapsed on Friday over a creek in southern New Jersey, causing a Conrail freight train to derail and spill hazardous chemicals into the air and water, authorities said.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Burton

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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Schools in Paulsboro, New Jersey, were ordered closed on Monday after authorities detected rising levels of toxic chemicals streaming from a freight train wrecked in a derailment last week.

Investigators, meanwhile, said Conrail workers had checked a bridge just one day before it collapsed on Friday, derailing seven of the 82 freight-train cars crossing the Mantua Creek, which feeds into the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

"We have information that there were people out from Conrail working on the bridge the day before," said National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

"They were doing some inspections; they were looking at the bridge," she said, noting the last recorded inspection of the track was on November 20.

Four tanker cars remained toppled into the waterway on Monday, including one with a gash that allowed vinyl chloride to escape. On Friday authorities estimated the size of leak at more than 12,000 gallons (45,425 liters) of the highly toxic and flammable industrial chemical.

An elevated reading of the hazardous chemical was detected at 6 a.m. on Monday at a local air monitoring station, prompting the shutdown of schools until further notice, Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said.

"As a result of that the fire chief made a precautionary measure to close the schools at least for the day," Ameen said.

Exposure to vinyl chloride is known to cause a burning sensation in the eyes or respiratory discomfort.

The rail bridge is near the residential and commercial sections of the town of 6,100 people, which is also home to two oil refineries as well as chemical plants. Some 48 houses closest to the wreck were evacuated and residents will not be allowed to return to their homes before December 8, the Coast Guard said.

Hersman said the transportation inspectors would spend the next two weeks preparing a preliminary accident report.

Among the areas of interest, Hersman said, is a signal that tells train crews when to proceed over the span. The crew told investigators that just before the derailment, they sent an automatic radio request several times but were unable to trigger a green light.

"The conductor got out of the train, he did a walking inspection, he returned to the train, told the locomotive engineer that everything looked good," Hersman said.

The engineer then tried three more times to get a green light. When he could not, he radioed a dispatcher and got permission to cross the bridge. As it crossed the span, the train derailed.

Conrail is jointly owned by rail operators CSX Corp and Norfolk Southern Corp.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (1)
wrote:
Let’s see —365 days a year @24 hours a day —2080 work hours a year
plus fill ins for vacation/sick/bereavement means there should be like
4.5 full time on-site train crew members to interview. Or Fred the
train driver say screw you Barney I’m leaving at 8 mph?

(a) The draw of the CONRAIL Railroad Bridge, mile 1.4 at Paulsboro,
shall operate as follows:
(1) From March through November, the draw shall be left in the open
position to vessels and will only be closed for the passage of trains
and to perform periodic maintenance authorized in accordance with
subpart A of this part.
(i) Trains shall be controlled so that any delay in opening of the draw
shall not exceed ten minutes except as provided in § 117.31(b).
(ii) Before the bridge closes for any reason, an on-site train
crewmember will observe the waterway for approaching craft, which will
be allowed to pass. An on-site train crewmember will then operate the
bridge by radiophone. The bridge shall only be closed if an on-site
train crewmember’s visual inspection shows that the channel is clear
and there are no vessels transiting in the area.
(iii) While the CONRAIL Railroad Bridge is moving from the full open to
the full closed position, an on-site train crewmember will maintain
constant surveillance of the navigational channel to ensure no conflict
with maritime traffic exists. In the event of failure or obstruction,
the on-site train crewmember will stop the bridge and return the bridge
to the open position.
(iv) During closing of the span, the channel traffic lights will flash
red, the horn will sound five short blasts, and an audio voice warning
device will announce bridge movement, and the bridge will close. When
the bridge is seated and locked down to vessels, the channel traffic
lights will continue to flash red. When the rail traffic has cleared
the swing span, the horn will sound one prolonged blast followed by one
short blast to signal the draw of the CONRAIL Railroad Bridge is about
to return to its full open position to vessels.
(v) During open span movement, the channel traffic lights will flash
red, the horn will sound one prolonged blast followed by one short
blast, then a pause, and an audio voice warning will announce bridge
movement until the bridge is in the full open position. In the full
open position, the channel traffic lights will flash green.
(2) From December to February, the draw may be left in the closed
position and opened on signal if at least four hours notice is given by
telephone at (856) 231-2393.

Dec 03, 2012 2:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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