Federal probe underway

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Officials investigate derailments



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BELOIT &045; In the aftermath of Sunday’s accident southwest of Selma, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has dispatched an investigator from Washington to look into why M&B Railroad has had so many train derailments.

A freight train overturned about 12 miles outside Selma, which has left part of Alabama Highway 22

closed while railroad cars are being removed. The derailment caused several cars to land within feet of the highway, and traffic remained rerouted Monday.

It was the third derailment the Mississippi-based company has had near Selma over the past year and a half. Cars derailed several months ago are still littering the tracks running parallel to Highway 41 just south of Selma. According to a spokesman from the FRA, M&B Railroad’s had enough crashes to warrant a closer look for the reasons why.

According to the Associated Press, M&B had 12 accidents by the end of May, including seven derailments. The May 2 derailment near Myrtlewood

involved a train carrying parts of a solid rocket booster used by NASA to launch space shuttles.

The investigator sent to Beloit is yet to file a report, but they are looking at track classifications and whether the company is out of compliance, which could explain the frequency of derailments.

The tracks through Selma aren’t new, but investigators say that is no indication the tracks are no good.

The rail, which stretches from Montgomery to Meridian, Miss., is &8220;a short line track.&8221; The FRA said there are approximately 500 short line tracks in the country that &8220;some of the larger railroad&8221; shed to smaller companies.

Flatau said there are nine classifications of tracks. How they are maintained determines how fast trains can travel, and what a company can haul including hazardous material or passengers.

A company spokesperson said Sunday the train that derailed in Beloit should not have been exceeding 10 miles per hour. There was no indication how fast the train was traveling at the time off the accident.

The FRA field inspector, other than finding out what caused the derailment, will be working with M&B officials to see if there are &8220;any concrete steps they can take&8221; to improve their track and maintenance inspection process.

Company officials began assessing the situation within minutes of the incident. There were no injuries and no signs of leaking chemicals, emergency responders said. The cars were loaded with a variety of products, including rolls of newsprint and vinyl chloride.

According to the Emergency Response Guidebook, vinyl chloride is a gas that is &8220;extremely flammable&8221; and unstable. The gas could be &8220;easily ignited by heat, sparks or flames.&8221; Temperatures Sunday evening were reading 96 degrees Fahrenheit.