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Railroad ups estimate of oil spilled in Vandergrift derailment

RJ Corman Vice President Noel Rush said derailments have been on the decline across the United States for the past 20 years.

“A derailment like this one at Vandergrift with 21 cars is by far and away an exception,” he said. “Most involve one or two cars, and often it's in a rail yard.”

According to most recent data on the Federal Railroad Administration website, there were 2,234 derailments in 2001 compared to 1,266 in 2012.

In 2012, Norfolk Southern had 189 accidents. Human error caused 68 of the wrecks, while track problems caused 50, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics.

Fifty-seven of the accidents happened in Pennsylvania including 21 blamed on human error and 18 blamed on track.

An American Association Railroads spokesman said railroads spent $25.5 billion in 2012 to build and maintain railroad tracks for freight traffic.

— Chuck Biedka, staff writer

Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 12:27 p.m.

Norfolk Southern Railroad expects to reopen its Conemaugh Line through Vandergrift by early Saturday after Thursday morning's 21-car derailment sent a tanker car careening into a building.

No one was injured and there were no fire or explosions during the derailment of the 130-car train just before 8 a.m. Thursday between the Kiski River and the Sherman Avenue neighborhood.

Railroad and contractor crews worked through the night Thursday and on Friday, according to Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon.

Crews continued on Friday to restore about 1,250 feet of damaged track and ship the usable railcars at either end of the damaged area.

Two railroad cars were hauled from the site, while 19 others remained but were moved away from the track.

The 19 include one car containing liquefied petroleum gas (butane) and 18 tanker cars containing heavy crude oil. Norfolk Southern will transfer the contents to other railcars for removal.

Railroad officials confirmed that four of the derailed tanker cars in Vandergrift leaked more than 3,500 gallons of crude oil.

Initial reports on Thursday said only about 1,000 gallons had leaked from one tanker.

Pidgeon estimated on Friday that between 3,500 and 4,500 gallons of viscous heavy crude oil leaked from four tanker cars after the derailment. A railcar typically holds about 30,000 gallons, he said.

Pidgeon said most of the oil ended up in the parking lot of MSI Corp.

None made it into the Kiski River.

In Thursday's cold temperatures, the oil congealed soon after hitting the snow. Workers removed the oil and contaminated soil for disposal.

By 4 p.m. Friday, about 75 percent of the spill had been cleaned up, Pidgeon said.

Kentucky-based RJ Corman Derailment and an associated company were working with railroad employees.

Pidgeon said before noon Friday, railroad employees, contractors and emergency responders had removed a freight car that was lodged inside a MSI Corp. building. The metals fabrication company is adjacent to the track.

Norfolk Southern “extends our apologies to MSI for the disruption to their business operations today, and we also extend our thanks to the local emergency responders and city, county and state agencies for their quick response,” Pidgeon said.

It's unclear when MSI will be able to resume its operations.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation to determine the cause could take months to complete, said Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Kevin Thompson.

He declined to comment further.

Pidgeon said the railroad is cooperating with NTSB investigators and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Norfolk Southern is doing its own investigation.

NTSB investigators will try to determine what happened and make safety recommendations, said Paul M. Johnson, a McHenry, Ill.-based engineer who has testified in court cases. The Federal Rail Administration sets safety standards.

NTSB staff will examine the derailment scene in detail, including the locations of the train and derailed cars, wheels from the damaged cars and perhaps take track samples, Johnson said.

They will try to determine whether some wheels locked or were hindered from rolling properly, he said.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or



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