Rock Slide Derails Train


Front Page / Oct. 8, 2015 9:41am EDT

Northfield Accident Interrupts Amtrak Service
By Sandy Vondrasek

Charita Cole Brown of Baltimore, Md. waits for a ride at the Randolph train stop Monday. Brown, who had hoped to ride the train home from Randolph, found that the train had been derailed in Northfield. (Herald / Bob Eddy) Charita Cole Brown of Baltimore, Md. waits for a ride at the Randolph train stop Monday. Brown, who had hoped to ride the train home from Randolph, found that the train had been derailed in Northfield. (Herald / Bob Eddy) An Amtrak train heading south towards Randolph Monday morning derailed after the train came upon several massive rocks that had tumbled onto the tracks from a ledge above.

Following the impact, the locomotive and the first of five cars plunged down a steep, wooded embankment; the next three cars jumped the tracks but remained upright, while the final, food-service car remained on the tracks. It was reported that there had been no passengers in the first car.

Seven of the 102 people on the train were injured, three of them crew members. Six were taken to Central Vermont Medical Center, and one, the assistant conductor, was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. By the next afternoon, all had been released.

The crash occurred in a heavily wooded area about two miles south of Northfield village. The rockslide was just beyond a slight bend in the tracks, giving the train’s engineer little time to react.

One passenger told the Valley News that he heard “loud screeching sounds followed by what felt like heavy braking” just before the crash. Another reported the car lifting up in the air and then settling down, still upright.

Dozens of emergency workers converged on the scene following the 10:30 a.m. crash. Responders included local fire and ambulance personnel from Northfield, Williamstown, Barre Town, and Montpelier; state highway and hazmat workers; state police; and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Complicated Cleanup

The cleanup, which will require hauling the locomotive and first car out of a wooded ravine, started Monday afternoon.

It was necessary to build a roadway in order to get a crane and other heavy equipment to the derailment site, Amtrak CEO and President Joseph Boardman said at a press conference Tuesday in Montpelier.

A section of Route 12A in Northfield was temporarily closed for that work, but has since been reopened. Jerold Kinney, the Agency of Transportation’s supervisor for the Randolph garage, said yesterday there may be a few temporary road closures as the cleanup proceeds.

The track is owned and maintained by Genesee & Wyoming Railroad, which bought New England Central Railway (NECR) in 2012.

Yesterday, Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said that Amtrak is working to remove its equipment while the track owner makes the rail repairs.

“As soon as they give the okay, we will operate,” he said.

Amtrak is hoping to resume its passenger train service in Vermont by this weekend, he said, but it might take longer.

In the meantime, Amtrak passengers between Springfield, Mass. and St. Albans are being carried by bus, with stops at all Amtrak depots. Those buses are following the Amtrak schedule as closely as possible, Schulz said.

According to Schulz, Genesee & Wyoming, as the “infrastructure owner,” is responsible to repair the track, as well as to proactively check to make sure the tracks are clear.

Schulz said he was not aware of similar problems on that section of track in the past. It is up to the track owner, he said, whether or not to install sensors that can detect rockslide action.

It was reported that a freight train safely navigated that stretch of rail Sunday night.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has also been on site to oversee the cleanup of the train’s diesel fuel, some portion of which spilled.

Although an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is underway and will take weeks, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Tuesday that there did not appear to be any signs of wrongdoing on the part of crew members.

Stranded Passenger

About two hours after Monday’s derailment, a chilled Charita Cole Brown from Baltimore, Md., sat alone with her luggage on the bench at the Randolph depot trying to figure out her options.

Brown, who had spent the past several days at a writers’ retreat and competition in Rochester, had been dropped off at the station earlier Monday by retreat personnel.

When the train was about an hour late, she said, she called Amtrak and learned about the accident. Brown stuck around for another hour, hoping Amtrak would come up with alternative transportation options that day.

In the end, she returned to Rochester for another night.

Although eager to get home, Brown was philosophical, even cheerful about the delay.

She had just competed in—and won—the fifth “When Words Count” event at the Rochester retreat, she said.

Each round of the event starts with judges winnowing through 100 manuscripts, cutting the list down first to 25 and then six finalists.

The writing is judged both on the literary merits of the book, as well as the author’s ability to “pitch” the work, she said.

Her book, “Defying the Verdict; My Bi-Polar Life,” is now guaranteed publication, along with additional marketing and publicity assistance, she said.

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