Runaway rail cars blamed for Glenville derailment
No injuries, no toxic release reported; cause under review
GLENVILLE Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of an 11-car train derailment Thursday night off Route 5 in Glenville.
No injuries resulted from the accident, which happened just before 7:30 p.m. near Wyatts Drive.
Pam Am Railways engineers were assembling cars for a 70-unit train destined for Deerfield, Mass. Some of the cars were carrying soybeans and chicken feed and others were empty, according to Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president for Pan Am.
Glenville town Supervisor Chris Koetzle, who was briefed on the incident, said the situation began when engineers were trying to link cars in the rail yard just up the tracks.
“Apparently, cars in that process somehow got loose and started rolling,” he said.
Because of the sloping grade and their weight, the cars picked up speed and rolled down the tracks, according to Koetzle. Engineers unsuccessfully tried to catch the cars, which hit a parked engine. An engineer who drove from the opposite direction to try to catch the cars hit it as well, he said.
The Beukendaal and Rotterdam Junction Fire Departments responded to the accident, along with state Department of Environmental Conservation officials and Schenectady County Hazardous Materials Team. The incident concerned town officials because the scene of the accident is close to Glenville’s wellheads. The cars were not carrying any hazardous chemicals.
“The only thing that was spilled was some grain on the tracks, so there’s no threat to the water supply,” Koetzle said.
Scarano said the company’s mechanical department is investigating the incident.
“There’s a black box on the locomotive. Statements are being taken by the crews. That determination will be made when they get all the evidence in,” she said.
Federal Railroad Administration officials were notified, as well, according to Scarano. Agency spokesman Rob Kulat said an inspector was sent to the scene Thursday night and the investigation could take up to a year.
FRA officials inspect track and signal systems, interview train crews and employees, review a railroad’s inspection records, study the black box data and obtain information from other local, state and federal agencies, according to a fact sheet. All this information is compiled into a report, and depending on the findings there could be civil penalties or fines against Pan Am.
Crews were back at the scene Friday morning to repair the damage. Workers used bulldozers and cranes to clear the tracks and right the cars. If any cars were too damaged to repair, company officials were planning to put them on a flatbed trailer and take them away, according to Scarano. She hoped that service on the track would be restored by today.
The tracks are roughly 20 yards from some backyards in the Reynolds Community mobile home park, which has about 10 homes, according to Manuel Hernandez, who lives on Wyatts Drive. Hernandez said he was watching television in his living room when he heard a train going by the back of his home that seemed to be making a funny noise. Then, about two minutes later, he heard another one go by, which he thought was unusual.
“Why are there two trains going close together?” he said.
Then, he heard a loud crash.
“It sounded like a bomb,” he said.
At first, he didn’t think anything was unusual because he frequently hears similar sounds when trains are being coupled and decoupled. However, he heard another crash, and a neighbor came to his house, telling him about the derailment and that he had to leave.
The only damage to property was when one car tipped over and crushed part of a backyard shed, Hernandez said. Two cars crashed into each other and both became tilted, forming an upside-down V.
The situation could have been much worse, according to Hernandez.
“Luckily, there were no chemicals,” he said. “It would have been a big explosion.”
Ann Benedict, who lives on the side of Wyatts Drive away from the tracks, took in neighbors for the night.
“Thank God that nobody got hurt,” she said.