Derailment cleaned up by Monday

Published 1:34 am Sunday, September 21, 2008

Business will go on as usual for a railroad company whose train derailed here last month.

The cleanup was under way Friday for a stretch of rural M&B Railroad track where a train car blocked traffic and upturned asphalt on Alabama Highway 22 on Aug. 7.

It was the second derailment in the same area in the span of a year.

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The rail line, based in Meridian, Miss., has drawn attention to itself for other similar instances in recent years.

However, there is not sufficient reason to lodge significant penalties, according to Britt Roberts, transportation director for the Alabama Public Service Commission. The line has shown itself to be in compliance with Title 49 of the United States Code of Federal Regulations (49CFR), which regulates motor and rail carriers.

Roberts made reference to a May 2007 derailment in Myrtlewood, located in west Alabama, where a bridge collapsed while supporting a train carrying a space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters for NASA.

“That event in itself has brought more scrutiny to that railroad,” Roberts said. “But as long as they’re still in compliance with the federal guidelines, and they’re operating at the right speed and continue to have derailments, there’s nothing that we have the regulatory authority to do anything about other than watch them and make sure they’re operating within their guidelines.”

He added that regulating short-line railroads, which is the category M&B falls into, is more difficult than regulating long-line companies.

“It’s not one of your major railroads. Their requirements are the same as major railroads, but they have different operating practices,” Roberts said. “Over here in Montgomery, you’re got the CSX, which is a major railroad. The M&B doesn’t have anywhere near the track to maintain. They’re also a 10 mph track, so they’re not on the same playing field.”

Don Vincent, manager with M&B, declined comment when contacted by phone.

The PSC is in a joint partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration, Roberts said, and its railroad inspectors are the same as the federal inspectors.

The state is budgeted for two track inspectors, but currently employs one due to retirement.

“The cleanup process is usually done by a contractor for the railroad,” Roberts said. “We oversee it to the same regulatory oversight that we have to make sure that they’re doing it in compliance with that (49CFR) statute.”

McDevitt Enterprises LLC of Meridian, Miss., is handling the cleanup. Owner Ronald McDevitt expects the job to be done soon.

“We should have it cleared out by Monday because we’re going to work straight through the weekend,” he said.

M&B is owned by Genesee & Wyoming as part of the Southern Region Division of short-line carriers.

Times-Journal photographer Amy Collins contributed to this story.