By Bill Archer
For The Register-Herald
Train traffic through McDowell County is one of the constants of life, and when a major derailment occurs, alarms go up throughout the region.
“We’re lucky it happened where it happened and when it happened,” Jimmy Gianato, director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said. He added that there were no injuries in the derailment.
At 8:35 a.m. Friday, 16 cars of an eastbound Norfolk Southern mixed freight train traveling from Bellevue, Ohio, to Linwood, N.C., derailed. The derailed cars were near the head-end of the train that included three locomotives and 111 cars.
The 16 derailed cars included 12 filled with asphalt tar, two carrying soybean oil, one loaded grain car that was overturned and one load of railroad cross ties. One of the tankers carrying asphalt tar ruptured and spilled liquid tar into Elkhorn Creek. The contents of the compromised car were in a liquid state during transport, but started to solidify when it cooled.
“Booms are in place to stop the tar from moving down stream,” Gianato said. “West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection personnel and Norfolk Southern Railway environmental people are here.”
By 2 p.m. Gianato, who is also chief of the Kimball Volunteer Fire Department, proclaimed that there was “no danger” to area residents. “The real danger is over,” he said.
By 3 p.m. NS crews began bringing large cranes and machinery to the site to clear the railcars from the derailment site and to start the process of repairing an estimated 700 feet of track that will need to be replaced before the NS mainline can be re-opened, according to Robin Chapman, NS spokesman.
He said that the crews would install lighting and work through the night to clear the derailed cars and repair the track.
“That’s a very important section of track to the railroad,” Chapman said. “Those guys work fast. They expect to have the mainline re-opened by 3 p.m. (Saturday),” he said.
Chapman added that the cause of the derailment is under investigation.
“I have no idea when that investigation will be completed,” he said.
He also said that any estimates of the damage would be available when the investigation is finished.
The derailment occurred a few hundred yards west of the Landgraff grade crossing. After the derailment, the locomotive and a few cars were moved east of the site. As a result of the derailment, the back of the train blocked the Vivian Bottom grade crossing for a few hours until another unit could be brought to the area to make a break in the train at the grade crossing so residents of Vivian could have access to and from their homes.
The Kimball Fire Department was on scene soon after the crash, with NS employees on scene as well. As a precaution, NS had a “shelter in place” for any residents within 300 yards of the derailment site, according to Chapman. However, that plan did not need to be executed.
Vivian was named for William Vivian, a London, England-based financial expert who worked closely with Frederick J. Kimball in 1882 to arrange the financing for the acquisition of the bankrupt Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railway. Kimball, a partner in the E.W. Clark & Co. financial house in Philadelphia, was also the civil engineer who orchestrated the development of the Norfolk and Western Railway from 1882 until his death in 1903.
Bill Archer is a reporter for the Bluefield DailyTelegraph