Train Derails on Bridge in New Jersey

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Train Derails on Bridge in New Jersey

  • Paulsboro, NJ.  A freight train has derailed on a swing bridge causing several cars to fall off and some to wind up in Mantua Creek.  4 cars contain vinyl chloride and one of them broke open.  About  80 people were evacuated as the gas has potential for being poisonous.  However, in this case the reports are that there will be no long term effects from it.  A real cause for concern is that this is the second time in 3 years a train has derailed on the bridge.  

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    Link activated.  Not a good situation.  At least nobody died.



  • Thanks for the activated link, Dan.  

    Twice in 3 years strikes me as "not a good situation" too.  A lot of people got sick enough to go to the hospital but there are no serious illnesses reported.  Fortunately.  I just hope it gets fixed the right way this time.  

  • For the latest at this time (7:40 PM EST) check  "Paulsboro Train Derailment: How it Happened."  To much for me to repeat here.

  • I just read the article, and it's the saddest journalistic experience I've had in a while.  I wouldn't let any of my stuff get into print looking like that.

    "Pulled the emergency break"...really?

    I suspect that the 24,000 pounds or so of chemical in the car with the breach (not breech) should have been 24,000 gallons.  "Hull breach"...sounds like a little too much Star Trek.  I've never heard "hull" used to describe either the tank or the shell of a tank car (at least they didn't call it a "tanker car"...<shudders>!).

    The most interesting quote was the description of the effects of vinyl chloride:  "a toxic, colorless and flammable gas that causes irritation, headache, shortness or breath and dizziness.   High exposures to the gas, however[,] could be dangerous to one's health."  The foregoing symptoms, evidently, are a manifestation of normal, robust health in the chemical belt. 

    Our dispatching friends here might be able to help on this, but it would appear to me that the cause of the derailment was the disregard of a signal that was intended to tell the crew that it was unsafe to cross the bridge.  The conductor's inspection did not reveal the cause of the signal.  But would not the dispatcher bear some responsibility for allowing a movement with hazmat like that to pass an absolute signal without any idea what was causing the faulty indication? 


    Railroader Emeritus (practiced railroading for 46 years--and in 2010 I finally got it right!)

    CAACSCOCOM--I don't want to behave improperly, so I just won't behave at all. (SM)

  • report says that it is a swing bridge.  I have often felt that they may be more prone to fail either one end or the otner especially with one full car and than an empty ? might have a failure of support causing a teter todder effect??.

  • Well, I didn't say the story was perfect, I just said it was there.  Going on that site I'm used to the typos and grammatical errors so I don't really notice 'em anymore. 

    At any rate, by the time the official accident report is finished and published the news cycle will have more than moved on, and we'll never see it in the mainstream press.  We've just got to make the best of what we've got now.

  • That is a would suggest that the failure would lie in one of the piers supporting an end of the bridge in the closed position.  Having closely observed swing bridges (and bridgetenders) in my pre-employment career, I can say that once the bridge is lined up and all of the position holders put in place (at least one for each rail at each end...never did learn the proper term for these), only than can an attempt be made to clear the signal for a train to cross.  It wouldn't take much of a misalignment to prevent a signal from being cleared--could the span be anchored and still not accurately lined up?

    Sorry, Firelock...I was in no way aiming at the messenger when I fired both barrels.


    Railroader Emeritus (practiced railroading for 46 years--and in 2010 I finally got it right!)

    CAACSCOCOM--I don't want to behave improperly, so I just won't behave at all. (SM)

  • I disagree about the dispatcher, Carl.  Dispatchers give permission by stop signals all the time without knowing the cause of the circuit being down or failing to clear.  That's what restricted speed is all about.  

    Not knowing, I would think that there are some employee timetable instructions that cover the operation of the bridge and what to do if a signal is not received.  

    I have to say that I obtained permission by more than one stop signal that no one knew what the cause was, sometimes it would be something we would find, like a broken rail, but frequently, it was nothing we found, and I don't think they were all operating tests.  The bridge, I admit, is a special circumstance, but I'm guessing the dispatcher followed procedure.  I hope the conductor did.

  • Carl,

    The 1899 bridge in Oshkosh has been known to be physically locked in place and yet not able to be lined across. I know CN's B&B guys/gals will be glad to have a new bridge to work with in March.


  • Firelock76
    For the latest at this time (7:40 PM EST) check  "Paulsboro Train Derailment: How it Happened."  To much for me to repeat here.

    Direct link to that article: 

    From the article:

    " "He received approval to cross the bridge and pass that red signal," said Hersman. "Two locomotives and several cars made it across the bridge and were one other side when crew stated they saw the bridge collapse and pulled the emergency break." [sic - should be "brake", of course, as Carl noted over in the Trackside Lounge thread]

    Five cars made it over the bridge, which is 200 feet long, without incident. The sixth car, carrying plastic pellets, and the seventh car, carrying lumber, derailed onto land." 

    Some of the comments to that article are interesting, and 1 or 2 appear to be prettty well-informed. 

    I find it significant that the heavy locomotives and several cars made it across without derailing.  To me, that exonerates the conductor - the track that looked safe enough to him (likely a non-expert, though) evidently was.  I'll speculate that something apparently went wrong later, "under load", in the bridge's reaction to the dynamics of the train's motion and imposed weight on it.  That would not be too surprising for a bridge that is located in such a soft geological setting.   

    ConRail also has a short news release on its website from Friday, 11-30 (nothing really new there, though):

    - Paul North. 


    "This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Reading all the current reports here, and many by experienced RR people...My thoughts {as a non rairoader},  would be, approaching said bridge, and with a known history of some trouble....and the engineer unable to do anything of change to turn the signal light from red to green....operation should have stopped right there at that situation.

    Having a red light signal at such a potential trouble spot....and signaling that there {is trouble}....or perhaps trouble with the signal...{unknown at this time},  If possible, engineer should have had permission to wait and not cross}, until 100% certain the bridge had no visible shortcommings, and crossing it might be less than success.


  • First, give the train crew--both engineer and conductor--and the dispatcher their just due: they followed the rules, they are professionals, they have run this route, crossed this bridge, handled these trains often enough and efficiently enough to know what they were up against, what they saw, and what the knew.  The fly in the ointment to me is the loaded tank car...over loaded perhaps or sloshing so that too much weight was put on one truck tipping the swing deck when it landed on it.  Paperwork was all within bounds and overloading not reported; a surge of cargo to either end of the tank car would put a higher weight on the truck at that end.  This forward and/or back surge could have been caused by the starting of the train at the red block pushing the cargo first to the rear, then to the front, etc.  OR a slowing down on the bridge itself could cause a surge forward then back.  This could cause an overweight on the truck whether or not the tank was overfilled or not.  Nor could it be foreseen even by a veteran crew, especially if the cause and effect never happened before.

    RIDEWITHMEHENRY will plan and escort railfan rides in and around the NY Metropolitan and Philadephia areas: no mode of transportation is untouched. Guaranteed railfan fun!

  •  One thing for sure ,    Mr. Cronkite is rolling  in his grave over this  "story" . I wonder if any of the ( reporters) teachers from grade school  has seen this account.   Inquireing minds want to know.

                                                                                  Just curious  





    Y6bs evergreen in my mind

  • The crew and the dispatcher may have followed the rules, but I still think none of them followed what should have been instinct in this case.

    I read somewhere (not this article) that there had been problems at this bridge for several days--or perhaps that something unusual had been reported in days prior to the derailment.  If that's true, and the bridge saw five to eight trains per day, and none of the preceding runs got the signal that wouldn't clear, they were very lucky.  Or, perhaps the crews were being "talked over" the bridge like this more or less routinely.  In that case, this crew was just the unlucky one.

    Another thought:  For a couple of the cars to have derailed "onto land", a derailment would have had to have been dragged at least a couple of car lengths.  I'm surprised that couldn't have been felt in the way the train pulled...I've worked with engineers who could detect an axle on the ground with a 70-car hump shove by the shove's behavior.  And in this case, that would be one of the things I would be concerned about, even if the front part of the train had made it over.  The event recorder might detect a drop in speed that the crew wasn't aware of at the time of derailment.  At least twelve seconds of time would have elapsed for the derailed cars to make it off the bridge (figuring a steady 8 m.p.h. and about 120 feet of car).

    Sloshing tank cars?  Overloaded?  Probably not, in both cases.  I don't believe I've heard of cars containing liquefied gases (such as vinyl chloride) sloshing--the commodity would expand to the volume of the tank, and under the pressure of such a load, would go nowhere (please correct me if I'm in error about this!)  There was a load of ethanol; that could have sloshed.  I doubt that anything was overloaded, as those tank cars are designed and sized for the commodities they handle, and probably with a safety factor.

    This will be an interesting one to watch for a thorough investigation's results. 


    Railroader Emeritus (practiced railroading for 46 years--and in 2010 I finally got it right!)

    CAACSCOCOM--I don't want to behave improperly, so I just won't behave at all. (SM)