Norfolk Southern derailment

Norfolk Southern derailment near 15th street in Windber Borough on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

The phrase “it could have been worse” certainly applies to the situation in Windber, where a second train derailment in less than a year shut down a key street and raised the anxiety level of residents.

A dozen cars from a train hauling coal from Rosebud Mining Co. jumped the tracks on Monday – closing Graham Avenue for nearly two days, knocking down a tree and fence, tearing up a stretch of track and destroying a borough storage building.

The derailment occurred about 30 yards from Carlyn’s Restaurant, causing neighbor and patron Ed Somonick to proclaim: “Thank God no one was injured.”

Windber Fire Department deputy chief Anson Bloom told reporter David Hurst that children were playing on a nearby swing set and in a playground behind the community building when the derailment happened.

And just ahead of the accident site along the tracks sits a Penelec substation feeding 41,000-volt transmission lines, fire Chief Robert Haddad told Hurst.

“If it hit that, who knows what might’ve happened?” Haddad said. “We could’ve been talking about a much different problem.”

Norfolk Southern is investigating the incident, said Rosebud Mining Co. Executive Vice President Jim Barker, whose company leases and maintains the local line.

Our region has seen several train derailments in the past few years – topped by a devastating incident Aug. 2, 2017, in Hyndman, Bedford County, when 33 cars jumped the track, sparking fires from tanker cars carrying liquid propane and prompting the evacuation of nearly 1,000 residents for nearly four days.

Hyndman had a second minor derailment later in 2017, prompting resident Beverly Shaffer to characterize her town as “on edge” concerning its relationship with the railroad.

Hyndman residents have expressed a lack of satisfaction with the response from its railroad company, CSX Transportation.

“It could happen again,” Londonderry Township Chairman Steve Stouffer told The Times-News of Cumberland, in northern Maryland. “You just have to hope and pray it doesn’t.”

A community’s safety should not be based on hopes and prayers.

A sense of security involves responsible companies and agencies acting in the best interests of the residents who populate its workforce and who live along its distribution pathways.

In Windber, an 11-car derailment in August 2018 closed Graham Avenue and 12th Street for half a day as crews removed the 90-car train that stretched over a dozen borough blocks.

The track was under repair when that incident happened – and corrections were made after the 2018 derailment.

The stretch of track was even inspected on the morning of the latest derailment.

Rosebud’s Barker pledged to make sure other damage caused by Monday’s incident will be repaired, including at a parking lot used during the response and cleanup. Late in the week, Rosebud workers – supported by GapVax crews – were clearing away coal from the site. 

That’s a start.

The track should be fixed and again operational within two weeks, Barker said.

But it will require a significant commitment to complete repairs to the relationship with the Windber community for both Norfolk Southern and Rosebud.

We expect a full report from Norfolk concerning what went wrong – what continues to go wrong – along its rail lines in Windber.

And we expect that report – supported and endorsed by Rosebud – to detail steps that will be taken to shore up the line and prevent derailments in the future.

We can’t allow “it could have been worse” to become “we wish we’d done more” in the wake of a major tragedy.

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