COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The aftermath of a train derailment last week in Ohio is being felt more than 800 miles away in Columbus, Georgia.
A Norfolk Southern train went off the rails, causing a toxic gas leak, evacuations and great concern in the community not far from Pittsburgh.
Norfolk Southern has extensive operations in Columbus.
Columbus Emergency Management Director Chance Corbett was asked if what happened Friday in Ohio could happen in Columbus.
“So, we all know here in Columbus we do have a railyard,” Corbett said. “We also have railroad tracks that roll through the city. Both in Columbus and over across the river into Alabama. So, yeah, it absolutely could happen.”
Corbett, however, is quick to say there are two factors that reduce the risk.
“We have some very good things going for us in Columbus,” Corbett said. “We don’t have near the capacity of the chemicals and the bad stuff going through Columbus because the lines that are running are no servicing those areas. But also, the speed of the trains themselves. If you pay attention to the trains running through Columbus and over into the surrounding counties and cities, they are usually going and that is because of the yard that’s here.”
Norfolk Southern has a large presence in Columbus. The company operates a switching yard on more than 80 acres just east of downtown.
A switching yard is where little trains go to become big trains before continuing down the line.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said the derailment was caused by a mechanical issue with one of the rail car axles.
The derailed cars in Ohio were transporting vinyl Chloride, a toxic chemical used to make PVC pipe. On Monday that cargo has was purposely released into the air to prevent a larger explosion.
Corbett says he has talked to Norfolk Southern.
“We have been in contact before this happened because we obviously believe in trying to prepare. But, yes, I have actually spoken with their police and environmental person. And have the train master’s number, as well. So that if we ever had something like this we could be better prepared.”
WRBL reached out to Norfolk Southern for comment about its Columbus operations. Here is the response we received.
Can a derailment happen in my community?
The safety of our employees and the communities in which we operate is our number one priority. We diligently monitor our trains and infrastructure to identify potential hazards, and we invest approximately a billion annually into maintaining our infrastructure every year. To prepare for the rare instance of a significant incident, we work with hundreds of first responders across our network every year, providing training through NS’s Operation Awareness & Response. This program is hosted on a train outfitted with railcars converted into classrooms, as well as traveling with retired tank cars, allowing local firefighters and other first responders to receive hands-on training in their own community. In fact, any department in any community can request a Norfolk Southern hazmat expert to come to their community for tabletop training.
Are railcars dangerous and what’s the safety of them?
As a common carrier, Norfolk Southern is required by law to carry a variety of materials used by businesses to manufacture goods. Much of that material is also transported by trucks on the highway, the main difference being that rail cars can hold a much larger volume. Rail cars are built, maintained, and inspected to standards set by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the Federal Railroad Administration. These standards are built on many years of research and continued refinement to railcar designs with safety in mind.
Incidents involving hazardous material spills are extremely rare, but we are prepared for them. Norfolk Southern has a team of regional hazardous material professionals and are backed up by specialized contractors that respond immediately to any incident. This is in addition to the annual training we conduct with first responders across our network, offered free of charge.