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Train derails in downtown Smithsburg

June 08, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE and DAN DEARTH
  • Three to five train cars derailed in downtown Smithsburg on Tuesday afternoon, according to Washington County Emergency Services.
James Ulrich, Deputy Chief of Smithsburg EMS,

SMITHSBURG -- Five westbound CSX cars derailed near downtown Smithsburg on Tuesday afternoon and the train temporarily blocked the crossing at Md. 66 southwest of town, according to the deputy chief of Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services.

No one was hurt and no hazardous materials were spilled, according to EMS Deputy Chief James Ulrich and a 911 dispatcher. No fire or smoke were reported either, the dispatcher said. The cargo train did not have any passenger cars, Ulrich said.

The derailment was reported at 2:30 p.m. in the area of Maple Grove Court in downtown Smithsburg, the dispatcher said. The initial report was for an empty tanker car and two to four boxcars, he said.

The five cars that were derailed were a tanker, three boxcars and a hopper, the type of train car that holds grain, said Smithsburg Fire Lt. Charles Scott. They were the last cars on the train and all five were empty.

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Scott said CSX investigators were on the scene. It appears the derailment started in the Cascade area when a wheel left the track, Scott said. Investigators think as the train passed behind the EMS station, a car hit the track switch, causing the end cars to become unbalanced and tip, he said.

Ulrich said there is a switch behind the EMS station for a dead-end stretch of track, Ulrich said.

Scott said rescue crews coordinated with Smithsburg Police to account for children who were playing around the tracks at the time of the accident. The children were accounted for after a short time.

Tuesday was the last day of school for Washington County Public Schools and students were to be dismissed 2 1/2 hours early, according to the school system's website.

Ulrich said he saw the derailment happen behind the EMS station.

He was working in the ambulance bay when he heard a lot of banging and loud noises so he looked out an open door and saw the train derail, Ulrich said.

"You could see one of the cars, the sets of wheels appeared to be dragging and then they just started tumbling like dominoes. The one car went and then the other two followed," Ulrich said. Three cars fell on their side and two were tipping off the track, he said.

Ulrich said he wasn't aware of any property damage except for damage to the railroad that would need to be repaired before trains could use it again.

Scott said a CSX crew was expected to arrive around 9 p.m. Tuesday to get the derailed cars upright.

First, CSX officials need to determine if the derailment was caused by personnel or machinery. Then they will release the unaffected train cars so they can continue toward Hagerstown, Scott said. Work will begin to get the five derailed cars upright. CSX officials hope to be back in business soon after that, but how long the repairs take will depend on how many ties need to be replaced, Scott said.

"They definitely have to tear up a lot of rail and everything and redo the track," Ulrich said. "The track is pulled up and missing in places."

Railroad Lane, which is beside the EMS station and parallel to the tracks, was closed for about 100 yards near the intersection of Barkdoll Lane as a precaution because two of the train cars had not completely fallen and were unstable, Scott said.

The railroad tracks were torn for about 200 yards behind the derailment. Railroad ties were cut in half, one rail was lying on its side, railroad spikes were strewn about, some train wheels came completely off cars, and springs were lying in gravel alongside the tracks.

Ulrich said it appeared the train was going slower than 25 mph when the derailment occurred on the west side of the tracks, closer to Railroad Lane than Maple Grove Court.

The area is about a block from Smithsburg Market and people at Town Hall heard the derailment too, Ulrich said.

The derailment only blocked one crossing, the one at Md. 66 near the Cavetown Planing Mill and ACE Hardware, Ulrich said. Md. 66 is also known as Water Street in the area of the tracks and as Mapleville Road when it crosses Md. 64.

Ulrich said the train cars blocking the crossing were disconnected and sitting on either side of the intersection so traffic could proceed over the crossing. The crossing was reopened by around 3:30 p.m. or a little earlier, he said.

Ulrich, who was the initial incident commander on the scene, said at first there was concern about a hissing noise from the tanker car. This caused emergency personnel to keep their distance until they could confirm the noise was air from the air brakes.

Fire companies from Smithsburg, Leitersburg and Mount Aetna; Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services, and Washington County Special Operations responded, according to 911.

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