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Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton & Favaloro
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Coal Train Derails But No one Hurt

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On March 19, 2007, a Norfolk Southern coal train derailed in Suffolk, VA. At 2:00 a.m., the train with 4 locomotives was traveling at 40 mph when 37 of the 148 cars left the track. The train wreck left a pile of twisted metal and tons of coal on the ground and cutoff the power to 1,000 customers.

According to the news release, there were no injuries or any release of hazardous material. The railroad’s spokesperson claimed that although their track was ripped up, no real harm was caused by this freight train leaving the tracks. However, I do not necessarily believe that no one was injured. I think it is quite possible that a conductor or engineer on this train might well have suffered back injuries or at least post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of this horrific, but all too common, event. Although perhaps no railroad employee or other person was taken away in an ambulance, that does not mean that no one was hurt.

It is no wonder that people who live along railroad tracks and in towns with a large railroad presence resent the railroad. Railroads often cause disruptions in services by cutting off electrical power or obstructing roads because of their operational problems. Our area of Tidewater, VA is particularly affected by a high concentration of railroad activity, including in the cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk. The railroad also has a huge presence in Newport News. It is just a matter of time before one of these derailments occurs spilling hazardous material, the way Norfolk Southern did destroying the village of Graniteville, SC with chlorine gas. That event in early 2005 killed 11 people and injured hundreds. Our firm is still working with the victims of that Norfolk Southern chemical spill to resolve the severe lung and respiratory problems caused by that disaster. If one of these chemical spills happened because of an error by Norfolk Southern or CSX in a more populated area, a real catastrophe could occur.

In addition to injuring or killing people as a result of train derailments, large environmental problems can also be caused by these derailments. The one in Suffolk involved 37 cars each carrying 100 tons of coal. The newspaper reported that the railroad had bulldozers simply knock the coal off of the tracks. While coal is not quite as deadly as chlorine gas, it cannot be good for the land and the ground water in the surrounding areas when you dump 7 million pounds of the stuff. I guess the railroad tries to recover much of the 7 million pounds of coal as it is money to them. However, I am glad that I do not live near the site of the spill and derailment. But as the railroad said “No one was hurt.”