(Centerville, Pennsylvania – March 6, 2018)
A community of homes had to be evacuated by school bus and sent to a fire station for over 12 hours when a CSX train being operated by Norfolk Southern Railway struck, ruptured, and dragged an 18-wheeler loaded with several thousand gallons of hydrochloric acid. The collision ruptured the tank trailer and dragged the rig a hundred yards before stopping Tuesday morning about 11 AM, EST..
The collision, which occurred at the dangerous and unguarded NS crossing of Maple Glenn Road near Centerville, in Washington County, PA, caused the total and immediate evacuation of 15 homes whose residents use the two-lane road as their sole access to the thoroughfare of Low Hill Road (Route 88).
Because of the time of day and the fact that many of the homes are just seasonal residences, only six people and two dogs were ordered out of their homes to shelter at the East Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department’s firehouse.
The two-person train crew members, who were exposed to the splash and fumes of the acid, were taken by ground ambulance to an area hospital, while the more seriously injured truck driver had to be airlifted to a Pittsburgh hospital. Another eight people had their injuries treated by paramedics at the scene. None of the injured was identified by name, gender, age or place of residence by investigating officials.
The virtually non-negotiable road/rail intersection occurs immediately upon drivers of vehicles exiting Route 88. There is virtually no vehicular storage space between road and rails, at the beginning of Maple Glenn Road, and tight curves on the NS rail route serve to conceal the approach of trains. To further compound these unsafe characteristics is the fact that there are no lights and gates at this crossing to warn motorists of the approach of the daily average of the 14 trains which travel through the narrow corridor which hugs the Monongahela River at the maximum speed of 30 mph.
Only active signals like flashing lights and crossing gates could hope to perform the difficult task, and as evacuee Charles Sheury told WPXI-TV News in Pittsburgh, “If they put a blinking light, if nothing else, a blinking light there, it would help.”
“Bang! We heard a big bang and the train stopped, so we knew something big was hit,” nearby resident Mattie Mowry related to KDKA, CBS TV news in Pittsburgh.
“I heard the crash behind me. I looked in my mirrors. It was just terrible,” Don Lloyd of Altoona, PA, a truck driver who preceded the victim’s rig across the rail crossing told WPXI. Lloyd then ran to the stricken driver’s aid with a gas mask and emergency gear.
“Now, this isn’t the first time this has happened, so I’m familiar with the screeching of the brakes and the slamming of the train,” Jack Mowry told WPXI News. The fellow evacuee and husband of Mattie was, indeed, correct, as the accident was the sixth collision between trains and motor vehicles to occur there, according to statistics kept by the Federal Railroad Administration. Tuesday’s crash increased the number injured in those half dozen wrecks to a total of five.
Jack Mowry also related to WPXI that “The street underneath the train was bubbling. It was eating the asphalt up. It’s some strong chemical!”
Hydrochloric acid, while extremely useful in industrial and agricultural processes, is corrosive to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes, and can cause acute and chronic health ill-effects.