US Reps. expect deeper look at NJ derailment

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm •  Published: December 6, 2012
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"When everyone's in charge," he said, "no one's in charge."

He said that for future problems like this, perhaps one specific agency should be given broad powers the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency is after natural disasters.

"I'm certainly aware of the fact that people in the community have had too much misinformation and too many false deadlines," he said.

Meehan said that's one of the issues he wants to explore after the accident investigation is complete.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash and has not ruled on its cause.

But board chairman Deborah Hersman has laid out how the bridge, originally built in 1873, had problems in the weeks leading up to the derailment. When the train pulled up to the swivel-style structure on Friday, the signal light was red. She said that was an indication that all four locking mechanisms on the bridge were not secured. But after the train's conductor looked at the structure, he received permission from a dispatcher several miles away to cross even under a red light.

Hersman was careful to say that the train crew members followed their training.

But Andrews said that guidance may have been incorrect.

He said it's a similar story with other railroad matters. Conrail and the FRA may have been following their protocol, he said, but the rules themselves could be flawed.

There was a derailment on the same bridge in August 2009, but from the publicly available documents, it's hard to tell whether it was similar to last week's.

Consolidated Rail Corp. and Norfolk-Southern, at the time co-owners of the line, each filed the requisite one-page form on the accident, which caused $480,000 in damage when nine coal cars derailed. According to a code on the form the cause was found to be "bridge misalignment."

Each form contained just one sentence of written description of what happened.

Neither the FRA nor the NTSB investigated the accident — and neither was required to do so.

Railroad experts agree that there are relatively few swivel-type bridges remaining out of an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 freight rail bridges across the country.

But FRA spokesman Kevin Thompson said the agency does not keep a complete inventory of bridges, either.

Andrews said he believes that an independent agency should have a greater role in rail safety, especially for trains carrying hazardous materials that, if spilled, can jeopardize public health.

He said it's Congress that needs to force such changes.

Bob Comer, an Ohio man who has investigated 300 train accidents, most on his own and some as an expert witness for plaintiff's lawyers in lawsuits, said the problems run deep.

"All the way back to 1825 when the railroad industry started in the United States," he said, "they have put money ahead of safety."

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Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill


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