Sig­nal prob­lem stud­ied day be­fore de­rail­ment

Leak­ing vinyl chlo­ride sent 70 peo­ple to hospi­tal.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By maryclaire Dale

PAULS­BORO, N.J. — Con­rail crews had re­ports of sig­nal prob­lems at a New Jersey rail­road bridge weeks be­fore a train de­rail­ment Fri­day, and were study­ing the prob­lem the day be­fore the crash and re­sult­ing chem­i­cal leak, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors said Sun­day.

Seventy peo­ple went to a hospi­tal fol­low­ing the de­rail­ment. More than 100 peo­ple are ex­pected to re­main out of their homes this week while crews try to re­move the haz­ardous ma­te­rial, vinyl chlo­ride, from a rup­tured tanker.

The Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board can­not ex­am­ine the scene un­til the chem­i­cals are re­moved. But the agency this week­end be­gan re­view­ing records with a fo­cus on both the sig­nal prob­lems re­ported re­cently and a 2009 train de­rail­ment on the same bridge.

Con­rail reg­u­larly moves tons of haz­ardous ma­te­rial over the low bridge, which was orig­i­nally built in 1873. The bridge strad­dles Man­tua Creek, a trib­u­tary near the Delaware River in the in­dus­trial town of Pauls­boro. The bridge op­er­ates like a garden fence, with a sec­tion that swings side­ways to open for boat traf­fic, then closes and locks into place to ac­com­mo­date freight trains.

The NTSB will fo­cus its probe on the lock­ing mech­a­nism and sig­nal de­vices. The sig­nals are trig­gered by sen­sors on the bridge, not by dis­patch­ers.

Con­rail crews in re­cent days and weeks had been re­port­ing prob­lems with the sig­nal, and the rail com­pany had been look­ing into the prob­lem the day be­fore, she said.

The veteran twop­er­son crew op­er­at­ing the CSX train Fri­day was fa­mil­iar with the route and had run it the three pre­vi­ous nights. They had started their shift at 3 a.m. in Cam­den and were sur­prised to get a yel­low sig­nal when they ap­proached the bridge at about 7 a.m. The pair then stopped the train for sev­eral min­utes, ex­am­ined the tracks, and got per­mis­sion from a dis­patcher to pro­ceed, Hers­man said.

The two lo­co­mo­tives and five tanker cars made it across be­fore the crew looked back to see the bridge “col­lapse” and a pileup of cars in the creek. The one that rup­tured had been struck by an­other tanker, she said.

Res­i­dents who went to a hospi­tal Fri­day were treated for res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems and eye ir­ri­ta­tion. None of the in­juries was be­lieved to be se­ri­ous.

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