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Accident leads to home evacuations, rail disruption

August 30, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Martinsburg (W.Va.) Fire Department crews hose down a propane truck that struck an underpass Monday afternoon on East Burke Street in Martinsburg. Crews evacuated 10 nearby homes as a precaution, officials said.
By Matthew Umstead, Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- About 10 homes in Martinsburg were evacuated Monday and CSX rail traffic was disrupted for about three hours after a propane truck struck the railroad bridge over East Burke Street, Martinsburg Fire Department Capt. Jerry L. Gray said.

A relief valve on top of the 3,500-gallon tank of the United Propane truck was clipped by the steel beams of the bridge, which has a clearance of 10 feet, 2 inches, Gray said.

Reported at 1:48 p.m., the gas leak prompted police and fire officials to evacuate homes in the 200 and 300 block of East Burke Street and part of Water Street, Gray said.

No one was injured.

East Burke Street was shut down between Spring and High streets until just after 5 p.m., when the road was reopened and train service was restored. The propane truck was then escorted by the fire department to the City of Martinsburg's old dump site at the end of East John Street where the remaining gas was vaporized, Gray said. Based in Frederick, Md., the truck was hauling about 900 gallons of propane when the accident happened, Gray said.

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Jerry Thomas of 228 E. Burke St., said he was at his computer desk in his apartment within view of bridge when he heard a loud hissing sound. Thomas said he first thought the sound was being made by a train that was coming to a stop and then notice the propane truck stopped on the west side of the bridge.

"It kept on shishing and the shish (sound) wouldn't stop," Thomas said.

Without a constant breeze to vaporize the gas, Gray said the fire department was concerned about the potential for an explosion and possible collection of gas under the bridge and nearby low lying areas.

A second valve on the back of the truck was opened in an attempt to more quickly unload the gas and firefighters sprayed it with water to help disperse it, Gray said.

The driver of the propane truck told authorities that he was relying on a GPS device for directions to get back to W.Va. 9.

The Van Metre Ford Bridge, which has a two-ton weight limit, prevented him from using Golf Course Road to get to the highway and Gray said the driver's navigation system directed him to East Burke Street.

The accident prompted the Maryland Transit Administration, which operates the MARC commuter train service, to announce arrangements for buses to meet riders bound for Martinsburg at Duffields station in Jefferson County, but CSX was able to restore rail service in time for MTA to cancel the "bus bridge."

CSX indicated there was no damage to the bridge, Gray said.

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