Clean up of derailed cars continues along with investigation into cause

By Lynn R. Parks

Cleanup of the 12 train cars that jumped off the track just south of Bridgeville on Dec. 26 was set to start Tuesday. David Pidgeon, spokesman for Norfolk Southern Railroad, which owns the tracks, said that the cars have been sold for scrap.

Louise Holt, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Transportation, said on Monday that Wilson Farm Road, which has been closed since the derailment, was expected to be open to traffic by the end of the week. The road was closed because the train cars and the gravel that they were carrying were lying close to the edge of the road's southbound lane.

A 13th car, which was carrying 33,760 gallons of propane and which was tipped over in the derailment, was righted five hours after the accident. Pidgeon said that the contents of the car were monitored throughout the process, and that none of the gas escaped.

The cause of the derailment has not been determined. Norfolk Southern has until the end of January to file an accident report with the Federal Railroad Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. An investigation into the cause is underway, Pidgeon said. The train originated in Harrington and was headed toward Seaford.

Warren Flatau, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said that about 44 percent of all train derailments are caused by problems with the track.

About 30 percent are caused by human error.

The track was reopened to train traffic on Dec. 27, the morning after the derailment, Pidgeon said. It has been handling trains since, with no problems.

Flatau said that when it receives the accident report from Norfolk Southern, the FRA will include the report on its online safety database. The report will also be audited, to make sure that all of its details are correct. The FRA uses accident data to design its oversight policies, Flatau said.

According to the FRA, Norfolk Southern had 157 derailments in 2011, the last year for which complete data is available. None of those was in Delaware.

Six train accidents, including derailments, were reported in Delaware in 2011. All were in New Castle County. In the first 10 months of 2012, there was one train accident in Sussex County. On Feb. 7, two cars on a train being operated by Maryland and Delaware Railroad Company derailed near Selbyville. The company's report identifies defective or missing crossties as the cause of the accident.

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