Train derailment

A Norfolk Southern employee directs a crane into position to start placing the freight cars back onto the track near 15th street in Windber on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

WINDBER –  A rail recovery team worked through the day Tuesday, scooping up spilled coal and moving toppled rail cars from the borough’s downtown – a day after a derailment brought neighborhood traffic to a halt.

By Tuesday morning, locomotives cleared Windber streets that were previously blocked by the 10-car derailment, but a R.J. Corman Railroad Services team remained at the scene the rest of the day, using side booms to lift and shift the last few cars that had toppled off the track.

Norfolk Southern Corp media relations officials confirmed an investigation was underway to determine the cause of the incident – the second derailment in 10 months within the borough

The accident occurred shortly after 8 p.m. Monday, sending at least 10 cars off the track and causing two to topple or spill their load.

Windber Deputy Fire Chief Anson Bloom confirmed the industrial line is operated by Rosebud Mining but Norfolk Southern was working the train.

In a release to media Tuesday, Norfolk Southern officials said the South Fork-bound train was hauling coal through the corridor when the derailment occurred.

Bloom said he was little more than 20 feet away at the time.

“I’ve never been through an earthquake – but I can imagine what it’s like now,” he said. “It shook our entire building.”

Bloom and fellow firefighters spent the entire night at the scene – a two block stretch of Graham and Somerset avenues that was briefly evacuated following the accident.

The group originally ordered the evacuation, fearing the accident might have caused a gas leak, he added. While a gas meter regulator was knocked sideways, no leak occurred.

“Apparently the hissing from air (brake) lines on the train caused some confusion,” Bloom said.

“There was never any danger,” said Joe Stoke, a Utility Pipeline maintenance official for Windber-based Keystone Cooperative. “But it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Last August, a derailment left a more than 100-car coal train stranded in a 12-block neighborhood of the borough – along another stretch of the same line as Monday’s accident.

Preliminary reports indicated a broken rail was the cause of the 2018 incident, federal officials reported.

It’s not yet known what caused Tuesday’s derailment.

The Federal Railroad Administration is aware of the incident and is “monitoring” the situation, spokesman Warren Flatau said.

It has not yet been determined whether the administration will initiate a formal investigation on its own – a move that occurs at the agency’s discretion, oftentimes in cases involving fatalities, extensive property damage or fires – as well as certain types of control mechanical or Amtrak passenger train incidents, the Federal Railroad Administration’s website shows.

Among 30 railroad accidents reported in Pennsylvania since January 2018, 22 of them were derailments, Federal Railroad Administration data shows. 

Track issues were cited as the most common cause, while six were cited as obstruction impacts or collisions.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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