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[at-l] Did You See This?---

Freight train jumps tracks

Monday, April 18, 2005 

By Gale Courey Toensing 

Copyright ? 2005 Republican-American 

FALLS VILLAGE -- A freight train derailed Sunday morning in the woods along the Appalachian Trail, sending six cars filled with lumber off the tracks and nearly toppling two ethanol-filled tankers. 

No one was injured and none of the ethanol spilled from the tankers being hauled by The Housatonic Railroad Company. 

Two engineers were in the engine at the front of the train when the accident occurred. The derailment began with the second car behind the engine, which was pulling the southbound train. One of the derailed cars struck a grove of large white pine trees, which fell across and blocked the Appalachian Trail. No hikers were on that section of the trail at the time. 

The derailment occurred about 9:30 a.m. on a section of rail bed parallel to Warren Turnpike about half a mile north of Housatonic Valley Regional High School. 

The train included flatbed cars and box cars carrying plywood, lumber and other materials, and two tankers carrying ethyl alcohol or ethanol, a colorless volatile liquid used as a solvent in drugs, cleaning solutions, explosives and intoxicating beverages. Ethanol is considered a hazardous material by the state. 

Neither of the tankers derailed although the wheels of the one of them were lifted off the tracks. The tanker was connected to the last car that derailed. 

Residents on Warren Turnpike said their homes shook when the train cars hit the ground. One resident described the sound as a thunderous roar. The first derailed car flipped at a 45-degree angle, its iron wheels rearing up into the air. Some of the cars were entirely on their sides. Large metal coil springs were strewn over the rail bed. 

In some places the railroad ties were ripped completely from tracks and scattered along the edge of the slope. In one spot, the rail bed and tracks had remained intact, but the weight of the cars had shifted it about a foot to one side, leaving deep trenches from the railroad ties. 

John Hanlon, the owner of the Housatonic Railroad Company, and other representatives of the company did not return calls seeking comment. 

One of the engineers said he knew immediately from the sound that a derailment had occurred. He said he had no idea what caused it. 

It is not known whether the National Transportation Safety Board will conduct an investigation. The board is an independent federal agency charged by Congress with investigating transportation accidents and issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. The board determines the probable cause of transportation accidents. 

Fire Chief Curt Mechare, of the Falls Village Volunteer Fire Department, arrived to inspect the scene around 10:15 a.m. Although there was no immediate emergency work for the fire department, Mechare had members dispatched to the scene as a precaution. About 20 firefighters responded, Mechare said. Volunteer emergency medical technicians were on standby at the fire house. 

"It was just because of the tankers," Mechare said. He directed arrangements to be made to access water from the Falls Village Saw Mill area on Route 7 in case of fire. 

Department of Environmental Protection officials were also called to the scene. The derailment took place about 300 yards from the Housatonic River, but there was no danger of contamination. Mechare said the DEP officials were still at the scene later in the afternoon. The Housatonic Railroad Company sent an engine from North Canaan to Falls Village to retrieve one of the tankers and the four or five additional cars that were not derailed, Mechare said. 

"They'll be back tomorrow. They have to get the box car off and then put the tanker back on the track and roll them back up to Canaan," Mechare said. 

The company assigned a security guard to the site for the night, Mechare said. 

The Housatonic Railroad Company provides freight service to more than 161 miles from Pittsfield, Mass., to Derby and Danbury, and from Danbury to Beacon, N.Y. Sunday's derailment is the first to occur for several years in the route along the Housatonic River through North Canaan, Falls Village, Salisbury, Sharon, Cornwall and Kent. Several derailments and track fires during the mid-1990s led to improvements of the rail bed.