The stretch of line where a Norfolk Southern Corp. train derailed Monday was rebuilt less than a year ago – and had been inspected earlier that day, according to the mining company that operates it.
Rosebud Mining Co. Executive Vice President Jim Barker, whose company maintains the Norfolk Southern Corp.-owned line, said the rail company performed a routine monthly inspection at 11 a.m. that day, and the same train passed through once before the derailment without any issues.
“At this point, we’re going to wait and see what Norfolk Southern reports (from their investigation) – and we’ll go from there,” Barker told The Tribune-Democrat.
Rosebud Mining put the rail corridor back in service in 2008 to move northern Somerset County coal it excavates to a cleaning facility, The Tribune-Democrat’s archives show.
Norfolk Southern trains move the coal but the line is maintained and utilized by Rosebud through a lease agreement with the Virginia rail company, Barker said.
Line issues are cited by the Federal Railroad Administration as the most common cause of train derailments – and that was the reason for the last one that occurred in Windber, FRA officials and Barker both have said.
Barker said the August 2018 derailment occurred during the period they were replacing sections of track along the line to improve it.
At this point, there’s no determination on what caused Monday’s accident.
“Many different things could have went on,” Barker said. “Time will tell.”
Damage done, derailment dangers
Toppled cars caused damage Monday, mowing down a chain-link fence behind Windber’s community building and knocking over at least one tree, which landed on top of a borough storage shed.
Efforts were underway this week to calculate the total damage, Borough Manager Jim Furmanchik said.
It could have been far worse though, noted Windber Fire Department’s chief deputy, Anson Bloom.
Children were on a swing set and playing tag in a playground alongside the damaged storage shed, he said.
If the rail cars went off track just a few yards up-rail, they could have struck a Penelec substation that feeds 41,000 volt transmission lines, fire Chief Robert Haddad added.
“If it hit that, who knows what might’ve happened,” Haddad said. “We could’ve been talking about a much different problem.”
Windber resident Ed Somonick was thankful Wednesday.
He said he frequently dines at Carlyn’s Restaurant, which sits about 30 yards down the line from the spot where rail cars went off track, and often walks through the corridor where the derailment occurred.
“Thank God no one was injured,” Somonick said.
The community building’s parking lot, which became a staging area for the emergency response, also sustained damage from the industrial-grade heavy machinery needed to lift, remove and store Norfolk Southern’s derailed freight cars, Furmanchik said.
Barker told The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday he will ensure the issues are addressed, including the parking lot’s surface
“It’s going to take a little time but the damage ... including the parking lot, will get fixed,” he said.
Windber’s response praised
Barker praised Windber-area responders for quickly assembling to Monday’s derailment, which occurred shortly after 8 p.m.
Firefighters taped off two blocks of the scene and briefly evacuated the area so utility company responders could ensure the accident didn’t cause any safety hazards.
“We certainly recognize and appreciate everything the community did after the derailment occurred (Monday) night. They gave us a lot of support,” Barker said.
Furmanchik noted the department set up an emergency command center Monday night and handled the response “in its entirety.”
“Having seen and participated in this command center, in the past, assures me that there is no disaster that comes Windber’s way that cannot be dealt with in a very professional and successful fashion,” he said.
Roads originally blocked by the derailment were reopened by early Tuesday morning.
The cleanup effort has shifted into recovery mode along a railroad right-of-way that sits up the hill from Graham Avenue, and runs parallel to it.
Rosebud employees were using a front end loader and trucks to remove coal from the site and Haddad said GapVax was using an industrial vacuum to sweep up coal dust.
Penelec crews were examining overhead lines on the property but Todd Meyers, a company spokesman, said outages were not an issue Wednesday.
Four damaged rail cars are being stored temporarily on the community building’s lot until they can be hauled away by a flat bed rail car or cut into smaller movable pieces, Haddad said.
Haddad said crews at the scene indicated it will likely take several days – perhaps a week or two – to repair the track.
Barker indicated the line’s shutdown won’t create issues anytime soon for Rosebud.
Its Windber-area mining operations were idled in recent days for a two week “vacation,” and if the line is still down when miners return, there’s space on the property to stockpile extra coal inventory – if needed – until freight hauling can resume.