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Emergency personnel and workers from Norfolk Southern examine the remains of seven rail cars that derailed Thursday afternoon at the S.R. 237 crossing in English. No one was injured in the incident. Photos by Wade Bell

Disaster narrowly avoided at English

Train derailment

April 07, 2010
Seven Norfolk Southern railroad cars derailed Thursday afternoon in English, shutting down both S.R. 237 and the railroad for several hours.

The derailment, which was reported at about 2:25 p.m., occurred after one railroad car's wheels jumped off the track about a half mile west of the railroad crossing in old English. The train continued on, dragging the derailed car until it reached the crossing and causing six other railroad cars to derail.

Charles Hammond, who lives just yards from the crossing and is a volunteer firefighter at English, was watching a ball game on TV when the incident happened.

Two hopper cars carrying plastic pellets lay to the side of the railway. One of the cars spilled its load but presented no hazard.
"It sounded like a bunch of metal crashing together," Hammond said.

He ran outside, saw what had happened and used his fire department radio to notify local officials.

Orville Qualters was waiting for the train to pass at the crossing. His vehicle was the fourth car back from the tracks and he was watching the passing train.

"You always watch the train when you come to a crossing," Qualters said. "I (saw) it lift up — the boxcar did — and I hollered to my wife, 'Watch this.' It came up and just laid over on its side, and the next one came in and hit it and laid over on top of it.

"The third one, I didn't see. I just saw dust then. The train just kept going like he never knew about it."

Qualters said his first thoughts when he saw the train derailing was to get out of the way.

"Actually, when I saw it turning over, I thought these (first railroad cars) was coming right at us," Qualters said. "There were three cars in front of us, and they were making U-turns fast to get out of the way. But when it hit the ground, it kind of buried in the ground and stopped it."

The cars that derailed were not carrying hazardous material — two were loaded with plastic pellets, two contained rolls of steel and three boxcars were empty — but the potential for a disaster was only seconds away. Five tanker cars that were just behind the cars that derailed were carrying denatured alcohol, which is highly flammable and can be explosive. Officials confirmed after the derailment that none of the tankers were leaking and there were no injuries. The derailed cars were part of a 47-car train.

Norfolk Southern crews work throughout the night to right the derailed cars and put down new track so train traffic could resume.
English Elementary School, which has about 165 students and is located near the railroad tracks just east of the derailment site, was less than an hour from dismissing school for the day. Crawford County Community School Corp. Superintendent Dr. Mark Eastridge was on his way back from Patoka Elementary and decided to stop by the English school. He came upon the derailment just minutes after it happened.

"I went to the school immediately, and we worked on an alternate route for the buses," Eastridge said. "I also put out a notice on the School Messenger system, notifying parents about the incident and letting them know that some students may get home a few minutes late due to bus rerouting. Anytime something like this happens, there's always a lot of wild rumors that get started, so we wanted to keep everyone informed. We are responsible for the safety of the children, and they are the most important commodity of a community. We never take that responsibility lightly."

Several agencies responded to the derailment, including the English Volunteer Fire Department, Crawford County Sheriff's Department, Crawford County Emergency Management Agency and the Indiana State Police.

Within a couple of hours after the derailment, Norfolk Southern had several representatives on the scene and crews began arriving from other parts of the state. Contractors also were summoned to help with the clean-up and rail repairs. S.R. 237 was closed throughout the night and other trains were held up while repairs to the track were completed.

The road was reopened early the following day, and train traffic resumed about mid-morning.

"We had trucks there until about 8 p.m.," Mike Benham, English VFD assistant chief, said. "And we left some of our people there to help monitor the area and keep spectators at a distance and out of harm's way. EMA Director Kent Barrow was on the scene until about 3 a.m. But it all worked out well.

"The Indiana State Police had Ryan Conrad and Kirby Stailey on the scene almost immediately after the accident, and they did a great job. Sheriff Tim Wilkerson had his people on the scene, as well. No one was hurt and there was no damage to any nearby buildings or vehicles. Besides the railroad cars and track, the only damage was to some grass, and that can be reseeded," he said.

"The railroad people were great to work with. They furnished us the cargo information and helped in every way they could. Even though they said it was one of their more serious derailments, everything worked out well."

Wade Bell contributed to this story.

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