(Northampton County, Pennsylvania – April 12, 2014)
Diners at a popular Upper Mount Bethel Township, PA restaurant had an unwanted ringside seat to what could have been a horrible tragedy as a half-dozen rail cars loaded with fracking sand derailed at about 4:30 P.M. Saturday afternoon. The derailing train narrowly missed patrons at the Slateford Inn just as the normal Saturday evening crowds gathered for dinner and drinks.
Witnesses described a slow-motion, domino-effect derailment as car after car came off the tracks, with three of hopper cars, each loaded with 150,000 pounds of the sand used in extracting natural gas from wells in Wyoming County, rolled over on their sides.
Norfolk Southern Railroad authorities alleged that the railroad property was no longer theirs and is now operated as the Delaware and Lackawanna RR as one of the privately-owned company’s five rail properties. According to unnamed sources, the 45-car train, which they said had emanated from Allentown, PA, and was bound for the Scranton, PA area, was only travelling at five mph when the wreck occurred. But according to Federal Railroad Administration documents, however, there is no record of transfer of the property and it is still listed as being under NS control. The FRA also says the tracks are used by only a pair of freight trains daily at a maximum permissible track speed of 10 mph.
“I just happened to see the train go slowly down, just like that,” recalled restaurant customer Bill Emmos. “I was like, ‘uh, oh!’ At least it didn’t come this way (toward the restaurant),” he told KFMZ-TV, Channel 69 news reporter Jamie Stover.
“Someone said ‘the train is tipping over, the train is tipping over,’” described bartender Robyn Alfonso, an employee of the Slateford Inn, to KFMZ’s Stover. “Everyone’s jaws dropped. They had their phones and cameras out,” she said, adding that the scene was “a mess, a huge mess! Unreal!”
The rail cars also barely missed several homes located near the railroad’s right-of-way. The crash site was only 200 yards from the Delaware River.
When finally reached Monday, Genesee Valley Transportation Supt. Lorie Ransom told Kurt Bresswein of The Express-Times that “The cause is still under investigation and cleanup efforts, we’re hoping, will start tomorrow (Tuesday),” adding that “There’s no danger to the public.”