Train Derailment, Explosion Cause Could Be Known By Week’s End

UPDATED: Thursday July 12, 2012 6:40 AM

State officials said that the official cause of Wednesday’s train derailment could be known by the end of the week.

Columbus fire officials Wednesday evening ruled out sabotage or a terrorist attack, leaning more toward a mechanical failure.

The National Transportation Safety Board said that a 10-member crew would be launched to investigate the derailment that occurred on Fields Avenue, near 5th and 11th avenues, in north Columbus at about 2:05 a.m.

The area was shut down because of the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train from Chicago, heading to Linwood, N.C.

Sixteen of 98 cars that were carrying chemicals like ethanol and Styrene, a chemical used to make plastic, derailed. Cars carrying grain and corn syrup also fueled the fire, which burned for nearly 12 hours.

As of 4 p.m., three cars carrying ethanol were still burning and would continue to burn for an undetermined amount of time, according to railroad officials.

Officials said that the car carrying Styrene was not punctured during the derailment.

John Fonner of the Public Utilities Commission Rail Division said that it was unlikely speed, hazardous materials or a train signal caused the crash, which resulted in an explosion and hundreds of evacuations within a half-mile radius of the blaze.

Resident Marquita Kelso said that she woke up to police banging on her door.

“I looked back, there was a huge fire ball with a whole bunch of smoke coming up,” Kelso said.

Natalie Freshour said that she heard a loud boom and looked outside to see what looked like daylight.

“I ran outside and saw flames coming up from behind the house, so we immediately leashed up the dogs, threw some clothes on and ran out the door,” Freshour said.

Fire officials said that when the train derailed, two people ran to the scene and were injured when the explosion occurred. Two rail workers also were injured. The victims transported themselves for medical attention with minor injuries. The conductor of the train escaped the derailment uninjured.
“What they will probably find for as big as dramatic as the video was, the actual flaw was an itty bitty thing,” Fonner said.

Fonner said it was more likely that the cause would be found in the moving parts of the train or issues with the track. He said that something called a “heat kink” could be a factor.

“So, you have over a mile of rail,” Fonner said. “As it heats up, it wants to get longer, but it’s tied down in so many parts, it gives and it blows or it moves.”

In July 2010, one of Washington D.C.’s Metro system tracks warped because of heat. The rail was replaced, averting disaster.

In 2011, 26 trains nationwide were derailed.

Norfolk Southern officials said that they would not try to re-rail or move the cars until given NTSB approval.

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