Trains running on track at derailment site raise questions as investigators arrive in Clark County

With federal officials arriving today to inspect the railroad tracks in Clark County where a Norfolk Southern train derailed on Saturday, an emergency management official in Clark County is asking why trains have already run on the tracks and plans to address that with the company when they meet this afternoon for a press briefing.

“That is a question that we actually have internally as well,” said Michelle Clements-Pitstick, director of Clark County Emergency Management. “That is something that we can address during the press conference (today).”

A Springfield News-Sun photographer witnessed two trains running on the track past the derailed trains, and a third reportedly went through the area earlier Monday, according to multiple sources.

It comes less than two full days after a train derailment that saw 20 overturned cars near the Clark County Fairgrounds and a Springfield industrial park.

One train came through the area between 3 and 4 a.m. Monday. Two others, witnessed by a Springfield News-Sun photographer, rolled through about 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., even as crews and debris remained at the scene of the derailment.

On Saturday, nearly 28 of 212 cars on a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Springfield Township on State Route 41, including four tankers carrying non-hazardous materials, per the train company. Two had residual amounts of diesel exhaust fluid, and the other two had residual amounts of polyacrylamide water solution. Although none of the derailed cars carried hazardous material, the train contained other cars with hazardous substances like liquid propane.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, the independent federal agency that investigates transportation accidents, will arrive at the site today to begin the on-scene portion of the investigation of the derailment of Norfolk Southern Train Number 179, said Sarah Taylor Sulick, public affairs specialist for NTSB.

“They will be looking at the condition of the track, the mechanical condition of the train, operations, the position of the cars in the train, and signal and train control among other things,” said Sulick. “They will also be collecting event recorder data, on-board image recorders, and will conduct interviews with the crew and other witnesses. A preliminary report will be available in 2-3 weeks.”

When asked about a train already having used the tracks, Sulick said, “Investigators are confident they will have what they need to do a thorough investigation.”

A preliminary report from the NTSB about the derailment is expected to be available in 2-3 weeks.

The 20 cars that derailed near the Clark County Fairgrounds were not carrying hazardous material, and no hazardous materials leaked in the derailment, Clements-Pitstick said.

“The (Ohio) EPA’s southwest district is still down there monitoring as they clean up,” she said. “But there are not hazardous materials or any concerns for the public, as we said yesterday.”

“A couple” of the rail cars that did not derail on the 212-car train were carrying liquid propane or ethanol, said Norfolk Southern Manager of General Operations Kraig Barner at a Sunday news conference.

Clements-Pitstick anticipates Norfolk Southern will have a manifest showing the contents of the entire train at today’s 3 p.m. media briefing.

The train’s contents did not meet the federal definition of a high hazardous flammable train, which requires additional advance notification to the state if a train has 20 cars together or 35 rail cars total carrying Class III highly flammable materials, like crude oil, gasoline and ethanol.

“It was a mixed freight train and not a HHFT,” Warren Flatau, deputy director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation-Federal Railroad Administration. “FRA is conducting an investigation, which is open and ongoing. As a general rule we do not issue preliminary findings.”

Some of the cars that derailed were empty, and Clements-Pitstick said her understanding is that it is not uncommon for trains to travel with empty rail cars.

“That is a typical practice and, in fact, last May when we had another train derailment here within the county, multiple train cars of that train were empty too,” she said.

Route 41 remains closed between Interstate 70 and Gateway Boulevard in Springfield due to the derailment. Traffic can still access the industrial park from the north, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“This route will remain closed until the railroad has completed emergency repairs at the crossing,” the state transportation department said.

The official detours are the following:

  • Northbound: I-70 west to S.R. 72 north to S.R. 41 north
  • Southbound: S.R. 72 south to I-70 east to S.R. 41 south

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