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N.J. bridge had problems before wreck

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 9:20 p.m.

PAULSBORO, N.J. — A New Jersey bridge where a train derailed last week, releasing a hazardous chemical into the air, had a series of rail alignment problems leading up to the derailment, the National Transportation Safety Board's top official said on Monday.

Some of the problems were reported the day before Friday's derailment.

NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said her agency has a lot more work to do before determining the cause of the accident. “Nothing has been ruled out,” Hersman said.

And one important part of the investigation — a thorough inspection of the bridge and the derailed cars — must wait until crews can remove the vinyl chloride from the area.

That work, too, paused when vinyl chloride detection in the air nearby twice reached an unsafe level of more than one part per million. Residents were told at 6 a.m. and again at 6 p.m. to shelter in place, an order that effectively shut down the town and forced a halt to cleanup work at the spill site.

The NTSB has been interviewing witnesses and investigating records, including details of a 2009 derailment of a coal train on the bridge, which is blamed on a misalignment of tracks. Hersman said the agency is looking into the 23 “trouble tickets” about problems with the bridge over the past year.

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