Signal problems preceded NJ train derailment - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Signal problems preceded NJ train derailment

Posted: Updated:

GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press

PAULSBORO, N.J. (AP) — A signal may have malfunctioned on a southern New Jersey bridge where a train derailed, causing a hazardous chemical to spew into the air and leading to health problems, an evacuation, tricky cleanup decisions and broader questions about the condition of railway infrastructure.

No serious injuries were reported in the Friday morning accident. But the U.S. Coast Guard said Saturday night that the evacuation of 12 city blocks near the Mantua Creek site would remain in effect as a precaution. Teams also were monitoring the air quality and collecting water samples, the Coast Guard said.

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman said the crew on the train told investigators that when they approached the Mantua Creek bridge before 7 a.m. Friday, the signal light was red, telling them not to cross. She said the crew found it unusual to get a red light at that hour of the day.

They used a radio signal to try to change the signal to green, but it did not work, Hersman said. She said the conductor got off the train and inspected the aging bridge. When it appeared to be OK, she said, the engineer called for — and received — permission from a dispatcher to go through the red light and cross the bridge.

Only the two locomotives and the first five cars on the southbound train got across the bridge before seven cars derailed. Hersman said the engine was moving 8 mph before the accident — under the 10 mph speed limit.

Hersman said investigators were trying to determine whether other train crews had had the same signal issue lately and whether the signal problems had anything to do with the accident.

Four of the derailed cars, including three that ended up partially in the creek, contained vinyl chloride, an ingredient in the common plastic PVC. A gas, vinyl chloride can induce respiratory problems, dizziness and other health effects after short-term exposure — and liver problems and other complications after high levels of exposure over time.

The accident ripped a hole inside one of the tankers, causing the gas to escape.

More than 70 people went to an emergency room Friday, none of them with life-threatening injuries.

A handful of nearby homes were evacuated Friday; some residents were allowed to return hours later after some of the chemical dissipated into the air and the rest turned into a solid and settled back into the tanker. But Friday evening, residents in the 12 blocks near the site were ordered evacuated.

State Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a former Paulsboro mayor serving as an emergency management spokesman, said the chemical levels spiked as the temperatures dropped and the breeze died down Friday evening so that gas escaping the tanker lingered nearby longer.

Conrail, the owner of the tracks, put up residents in 106 hotel rooms Friday night. And the Coast Guard said Conrail will again open a center in the Paulsboro Fire Department to help people affected by the accident.

Residents said they were told to be ready to stay away from their homes for three days, and possibly longer.

Some said they had tough nights away from pets, who were taken to an animal shelter. Others were frustrated with the late call to get out and not having much time to pack.

"We were not told until they knocked on our door," said Diamond Veney, who was holding her sleeping 1-year-old son, Tamir.

She said her family was given just 30 minutes to get out Friday evening.

Many of the displaced residents were being moved from hotel to hotel on Saturday. For some, the shift meant heading to a place that accepts pets.

On Saturday, crews moved some of the train cars around and brought in empty tankers to be used to store vinyl chlorine.

The NTSB's Hersman said investigators normally spend about a week documenting sites of accidents like this one. But she said it could take longer in this case because they will not go back to the site until it's declared safe. It was not clear when that may happen.

Meanwhile, NTSB staff members were focusing on records review, witness interviews and other tasks that do not require being on site. She said the board is also pursuing details of how the bridge was rebuilt after a coal train derailed there in 2009.

Hersman said investigators want to learn if the tidal surge from Superstorm Sandy may have caused problems at the bridge. Though it's in one of the parts of New Jersey least impacted by the storm, she said, the storm may have affected it.

Officials also were considering how and when to move the remaining chemical from the ruptured car.

Even without all details of the accident determined, New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat whose district includes Paulsboro, said it pointed to a bigger problem: An aging railroad infrastructure.

He said the 200-foot span at the center of this derailment originally went up in 1873. He said that accidents can happen anywhere, but "you have to make sure, at least, the infrastructure is as safe as it could be."

He said that because federal regulators oversee most freight rail issues, it's up to the federal government to push for, and perhaps pay for, upgrades.

Recent state and federal funding commitments totaling $28 million to improve rail infrastructure have not included the Paulsboro bridge, he said.

  • New Jersey NewsNew Jersey NewsMore>>

  • Thousands come out for Blake Shelton's free beach show in Atlantic City

    Thousands come out for Blake Shelton's free beach show in Atlantic City

    Friday, August 1 2014 4:29 PM EDT2014-08-01 20:29:15 GMT
    Country music star and "The Voice" coach Blake Shelton played a free concert on the beach in Atlantic City in front of more than 60,000 fans Thursday night, promoters said. He performed on a stage build on the beach near The Pier at Caesars. Fans that couldn't get into the beach area could hear and watch from the Boardwalk and from boats moored in the water nearby.
    Country music star and "The Voice" coach Blake Shelton played a free concert on the beach in Atlantic City in front of more than 60,000 fans Thursday night, promoters said. He performed on a stage build on the beach near The Pier at Caesars. Fans that couldn't get into the beach area could hear and watch from the Boardwalk and from boats moored in the water nearby.
  • Home owned by Trump holdout sells at auction

    Home owned by Trump holdout sells at auction

    She once called Donald Trump "a maggot, a cockroach and a crumb." This week, he remembered her as "an impossible person."
    An Atlantic City-area real estate figure has bought at auction a property that earned its owner near-folk hero status for resisting decades of overtures from developers...
  • Passaic recreation director arrested

    Passaic recreation director arrested

    Friday, August 1 2014 1:46 PM EDT2014-08-01 17:46:39 GMT
    Authorities in northern New Jersey say a longtime recreation director has been charged with extorting sports teams who wanted to join city leagues.
    Authorities in northern New Jersey say a longtime recreation director has been charged with extorting sports teams who wanted to join city leagues.
Powered by WorldNow

KDFW FOX 4
400 N. Griffin Street
Dallas, Texas 75202

Main Station Directory:
(214) 720-4444
News Fax:
(214) 720-3263 or (214) 720-3333

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | New Terms of Service What's new | Ad Choices