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Feds: Broken spike caused Vandergrift derailment, oil spill

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
A Norfolk Southern worker walks past damage from a derailed train next to the MSI Corporation building along First Avenue in Vandergrift on Thursday, on Feb. 13, 2014.

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About the Vandergrift derailment

Twenty-one of 130 railroad cars jumped the track just before 8 a.m. Feb. 13 in an area between the Kiski River and the Sherman Avenue neighborhood.

One tanker car slammed into a business and three others broke open, leaking thousands of gallons of oil. An undisclosed amount of contaminated soil was removed from the site, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

However, major damage was averted. The crude oil was of the “heavy” variety — not the volatile Bakken variety — and not easily combustible. The spillage didn't foul the Kiski River and there were no evacuations.

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Friday, June 20, 2014, 11:24 a.m.
 

A broken railroad spike likely caused a Feb. 13 train derailment and crude oil spill in Vandergrift.

Federal investigators said the broken spike allowed the track to spread, becoming too wide for the Norfolk Southern train to pass safely.

Mike England, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration, confirmed the cause.

The investigation of the Vandergrift derailment was completed recently by the railroad agency and its report was obtained by the Valley News Dispatch through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Broken spikes do cause train derailments on occasion, England said.

No violations were reported during the federal review, and the investigation is closed, he said.

“Just because there is an accident, it doesn't mean that the railroad did anything wrong,” England said

Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, said he had nothing to add to the investigators' report.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said the nation and industry must learn from rail accidents.

“The derailment in Vander-grift and others across the state should serve as a wake-up call that we need to improve rail safety,” he said in a statement on Friday.

“Dependable rail travel is vitally important to Pennsylvania's economy and critical to the safety of the millions of Americans who live near rail lines. I will continue to push for improvements to prevent future derailments,” Casey said.

“Among other measures, it is imperative that the Federal Railroad Administration has the resources it needs to hire rail inspectors to prevent this from happening again,” he said.

Report details

According to the report, two trains used the Vandergrift track hours before the derailment without incident.

No injuries were reported among the engineer, locomotive engineer trainee and conductor on board the derailed train. Three MSI Corp. employees were evacuated when one of the rail cars went through the wall of a company building near the tracks.

The first car to derail was the 67th car in the train of 112 loaded cars and seven empty cars. The 67th through 88th cars derailed, including 19 loaded with crude oil and two with liquid propane gas.

The train originated in Conway, Pa., and was on its way to Harrisburg and points east.

After the derailment, the railroad “did a fair amount” of work on tracks in the accident area, where train traffic has resumed, Pidgeon said.

The Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration this year determined the Vandergrift derailment to be the 14th most significant involving crude oil or ethanol in the past eight years. That report stated that 10,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Vandergrift derailment.

In contrast, the Federal Railroad Administration report states that only 4,310 gallons of heavy crude oil was released.

Damage to equipment in the accident is estimated at $1.76 million, according to the report.

In addition, about $240,000 in damage was caused to the track and $30,000 to a signal.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com. Staff writer Chuck Biedka contributed.

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