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Edition #135, October 1, 2010

Aftermath of A Disaster

Photographer: Alex Mayes

                                                                                 Photo by Alex Mayes

Aftermath of A Disaster

CSX sends a dozen coal trains a day down Sand Patch grade. Most of these trips are without incident, however, early in the morning on February 6, 2010 a 130 car loaded coal train went out of control while descending the 1.94 percent grade and derailed at the curved trestle over Wills Creek at milepost 201. Its two diesels and the first 17 cars managed to cross the trestle without derailing, however the remaining 113 cars left the rails and scattered across the right of way, with a few going into Wills Creek. Fortunately, none of the crew was injured. Both tracks were blocked by the wreck, which closed CSX's Keystone Sub for two days. CSX contracted with R. J. Corman Company and Hulcher Services, Inc. to remove the derailed cars from the right of way and make temporary repairs to the tracks so the line could be reopened. Environmental firms contracted by CSX were sent to the site to remove spilled coal from Wills Creek and take measures to prevent further contamination of the creek. After a week at the site, R. J Corman and Hulcher Services completed their work and departed. The remaining task at hand was to cut up the 113 mangled cars which had been piled up on the north side of the tracks and dispose of their remains. This job went to East Coast Dismantling, which sent a team of workers equipped with cutting torches and other equipment to the site to begin the massive chore.

Cutting up mangled rail cars is an arduous and dangerous task. Fortunately for the crew assigned to this job none of the cars contained hazardous materials. However this type of work has its inherent share of risks. Using an oxy-acetylene torch to melt steel to its 2,800 degree F melting point is in itself a hazardous occupation that requires specialized training and the wearing of protective equipment. Showers of molten steel and sparks create potential hazards to workers as well as fire hazards. And having to stand on damaged cars piled atop one another while working presents additional perils. However, the work must go on despite these occupational hazards, and the crew assigned to this project carried out their assigned tasks in a professional manner.

On February 19, 2010 while on Sand Patch grade I went to the wreck site and was granted permission to take photos of the work in progress. A half-dozen workers were busy cutting up the wrecked cars while backhoes were hauling the severed pieces to piles for later disposal. Watching the operation close-up was fascinating, especially the workers using the torches.

At the far end of the worksite I spotted a worker cutting off a twisted component and took several photos to ensure I captured a bright orange shower of molten steel and sparks. Wearing an orange welding jacket and a hardhat fitted with a green face shield, he was deeply engrossed in his work and oblivious to my presence as I clicked away.

Alex Mayes

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