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Norfolk Southern Train Derails in Columbus, Ohio

Jul 12, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

A freight train derailment in Ohio Wednesday morning led to localized evacuations as three train cars carrying ethanol exploded and sparked massive fire.

According to an Associated Press report from Columbus, Ohio, the derailment on tracks owned by Norfolk Southern Corp. did not result in any injuries but three train cars, each carrying 30,000 gallons of ethanol, exploded in the incident. Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the scene later in the day Wednesday searching for a possible cause to the derailment.

Witnesses to the 2 a.m. derailment said the explosions could be felt for blocks in the northern area of Columbus and flames from the fire that was sparked by the burning ethanol could be seen from much farther away. On Wednesday night, the derailed ethanol tankers were still burning and fire officials have decided to allow the fire to extinguish itself. Once it does, they’ll spray a chemical foam that’s designed to prevent reignition of the flames. Any remaining ethanol will be taken from the scene and the train will be cleared from the snarled tracks.

 A local NBC report indicates the Norfolk Southern train had two locomotives and 98 freight cars. Not all cars in the train contained hazardous chemicals. The burning ethanol did prompt safety officials to order people living within a mile of the incident to stay indoors until further notice. 

Some people living nearest to the incident were worried about the potential hazards posed by the burning ethanol. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman said the incident could have endangered thousands more lives had it occurred near a more populated area of the city. Freight trains traverse the tracks in Columbus on a daily basis and many carry dangerous chemicals and fuels. 

Several residents of the northern Columbus neighborhood where the incident occurred were moved to a local Red Cross shelter as evacuees. About 30 homes were evacuated following the derailment, all within a one-mile radius.

A full investigation into the incident could take up to a year to complete. Two officials investigating a subsequent explosion at the scene did suffer minor injuries while they were walking along the train tracks but took themselves to a local hospital for treatment.

This is the eighth train derailment of a Norfolk Southern vehicle this year, according to the NBC report. This is the first to occur on one of the company’s main lines that connects through a residential community. There were 20 Norfolk Southern train derailments last year in Ohio. The company has not reported any injuries from those incidents.

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