ShareThis Page

Railroad mishap rattles nerves in Sewickley area

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune Review
Emergency crews work the scene of a train crash at the Sewickley-Edgeworth border on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Three train engines caught fire in the crash which caused nearby homes and businesses in the area to evacuate.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune Review
Crews work to rerail a Union Pacific engine at the site of a train crash in Sewickley on Thursday, July 3, 2014. The July 2 crash caused three train engines to derail and forced some nearby homes and businesses to evacuate.

Up to 70 trains travel daily through the Sewickley Valley, passing underneath the Sewickley Bridge; traveling by playgrounds and ball fields, along rivers, past businesses, next to schools and beyond the backyards of many homes.

Most often those trains pass without much notice from locals, except maybe a railroad enthusiast or driver stuck at a crossing.

But on July 2, two of three engines from a Norfolk Southern train burst into flames when they slammed into the back of a second train near the border of Sewickley and Edgeworth, which forced evacuations from nearby homes, businesses and the Sewickley Community Center on Chadwick Street.

The two locomotives spilled 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel when one engine flipped on its side, Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson said.

The train that caught fire was pulling 82 cars, 80 of which were empty ethanol tankers that emergency officials said could have caused an explosion because they likely contained residual ethanol and fumes, which are flammable.

The slower-moving train was carrying 56 empty intermodal cars, which are flat beds that typically carry stacked shipping containers. An engineer and conductor aboard the train were treated at a Pittsburgh hospital and released, a Norfolk Southern spokesman said.

The Federal Railroad Administration is investigating the cause of the incident, spokesman Michael Cole said in an email.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” he said. “Once completed, our investigation will identify the root cause of the accident, and we will take all appropriate enforcement actions.”

The railway is one of the busiest in the country and connects New York to Chicago, Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said.

The collision and safety of nearby neighborhoods is a concern the region and nation faces, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

“When you see something like this, it could obviously have been a lot worse,” Fitzgerald said. “It could have been a train that rolled the other way into the residential area or rolled into the river. We've got a lot of water treatment plants that take their intakes along the river. Luckily, nobody downstream on the Ohio River is going to be impacted.

“Carrying any materials through a community, what would be the impact if there is a derailment, what could happen? It's something you got to continue to look at.”

With an infrastructure built more than a century ago, it's impossible to relocate the rails, Fitzgerald said.

“Our rail systems pretty much run along our rivers, not just here in Pittsburgh, but nationally,” he said. “It's something to be concerned about. There's no way to move the tracks off river.”

Bobby Cherry is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-324-1408 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.