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Rail cars hang above river after McKeesport derailment

| Sunday, June 8, 2014, 12:24 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re
Train cars hang off the side of a railroad bridge at the site of a train derailment in McKeesport on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re
Matthew Young (left), 8, and his brother Noah Harrison, 6, both of McKeesport, look from Jerome Street Bridge on to the site of a train derailment in their neighborhood on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re
Train cars hang off the side of a railroad bridge at the site of a train derailment in McKeesport on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re
A pedestrian takes photos from the road as train cars hang off the side of a railroad bridge at the site of a train derailment in McKeesport on Sunday, June 8, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re
Alvin Decker, 82, of McKeesport, looks over the fence in his backyard in McKeesport to a CSX freight car stopped in front of a train derailment in McKeesport on Sunday, June 8, 2014. Decker lives right up against the railroad track, and says that trains sometimes sit and idle outside his bedroom window for days at a time.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Re
Workers walk along the scene of a train derailment in McKeesport as train cars hang off the side of a railroad bridge on Sunday, June 8, 2014. One car reportedly carried 'light petroleum' but otherwise there were empty cars or scrap metal being carried from New Castle to Connellsville. Derailments in McKeesport and other Pennsylvania cities have raised concerns about rail safety, particularly for trains carrying Bakken crude oil from North Dakota.
Chris Togneri | Tribune-Review
A train derailed in McKeesport late Saturday night, leaving several cars dangling above the Youghiogheny River from a train trestle. Some cars carried scrap metal; others were empty.
Chris Togneri | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Train cars hang off the side of a railroad bridge at the site of a train derailment in McKeesport on Sunday, June 8, 2014.

Ashley Bound heard the screeching of metal, then saw a curtain of sparks and debris cascading from a McKeesport train trestle into the water around her.

“You could tell the wheels were not on the rail, even before the crash,” said Bound, 23, of Elizabeth. “We were in a boat about 50 feet away and when I saw all the sparks, I said: ‘I don't think that's supposed to happen.' I was freaking out. It was scary.”

Bound and her friends witnessed a CSX Transportation train derail on a trestle near the Jerome Street Bridge at 10:56 p.m. Saturday. Ten of the 88 cars derailed, officials said, including three that hung above the Youghiogheny River on Sunday.

No one was injured, and no chemicals spilled, officials said. Most of the cars were empty or carrying scrap metal; one contained “light petroleum,” but it remained upright and did not leak, CSX spokesman Gary Sease said.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the crash, but that could take days or weeks, Sease said.

Bound said the CSX train appeared to be traveling faster than others. Sease did not know the train's speed but said it would be part of the investigation.

Officials on site speculated that a switch malfunction caused the crash. Sease declined to discuss specifics.

“We'll look at everything,” he said.

Crews plan to use cranes to move the derailed containers, Sease said. The process will take at least a day.

On Sunday, crews laid out containment booms in the water to guard against debris or chemicals falling into the water during removal, Sease said.

“They'll be very busy for the next 24 hours,” Sease said. “After that, we don't know.”

On Sunday night, crews still had to remove two derailed cars and repair the track. Authorities said they hope to reopen the track to train traffic on Monday.

The train was traveling from New Castle to Connellsville, officials said.

“There's a lot of damage to the tracks,” McKeesport Deputy Fire Chief Don Sabol said. “A lot of broken ties. It's twisted up.”

Authorities closed the McKeesport Marina below the trestle. A city River Rescue crew stopped boaters from getting too close.

Some nearby roads were closed, including River Road, where a pile of debris — such as shredded railroad ties and wire — fell from the trestle.

One track on the trestle was not damaged. Other trains eventually will be allowed to pass at slow speeds, but delays are expected, officials said.

Throughout the day, spectators gathered on the Jerome Street Bridge to get a bird's-eye view of the wreckage below while CSX crews surveyed the damage.

“They're just lucky these things didn't go off and kill somebody,” said Lenny Tate, 47, of McKeesport.

Donald Jancic, 55, lives near the trestle. His house is so close to the tracks that passing trains come within 18 inches of his house, he said.

“There was a thunderous boom,” Jancic said. “I hear the trains all the time, living so close to the tracks. But wow! I never heard a train sound like that before. It was like metal clanging.”

Staff writer Jennifer Vertullo contributed to this report. Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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