Train plunges off rail bridge in New Jersey

Written by Douglas John Bowen

A bridge accident in Paulsboro, N.J., early Friday morning caused at least three cars of an 84-car Conrail Shared Assets train to fall into Mantua Creek. At least one car was leaking vinyl chloride, a toxic and flammable substance. The incident is under investigation.

At least 18 people reportedly were treated at nearby hospitals with respiratory problems, but no life-threatening injuries were reported as of 1:00 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30.

Evacuations took place in a small radial area surrounding the bridge, while local schools placed students in a lockdown. Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said, “It appears that all of the vinyl chloride that was in the particular car has dissipated,” adding, “There’s no more release going on” into Mantua Creek. But NJDEP advised caution.

John Burzichelli, a spokesman for the Borough of Paulsboro, said two cars are hanging off the bridge, in addition to the one car fallen into the creek. Burzichelli described the bridge as “a very old structure.”

Paulsboro, in Gloucester County, lies roughly 14 miles southwest of both Camden, N.J., and Philadelphia. The Mantua Creek empties into the Delaware River.

Documentation provided by the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Environmental Services identifies NJDOT itself as the owner of the bridge. But an April 20, 2004 item listed in the Federal Register, involving a final ruling on “Drawbridge Operation Regulation” and involving both the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security, identifies Conrail as the owner of the bridge.

The bridge also failed in August 2009, prompting 16 coal cars to fall into the creek, according to State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, whose district includes Paulsboro. “This is a bridge that was repaired in ’09,” Sweeney said to local media. He added, “This is a railroad bridge. This is Conrail’s responsibility.”

Conrail operates over roughly 372 miles of right-of-way in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area, including on the Paulsboro Industrial line. Conrail is a jointly owned subsidiary of CSX Corp. (42%) and Norfolk Southern Corp. (58%), with each Class I parent holding an equal voting interest.

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