Train leaks ethanol after derailing in N.Y.: New safety tech coming

A train carrying ethanol derailed in New York on Wednesday, and officials evacuated residents and cleaned up the hazardous liquid. Technology to decrease such derailments is slowly being installed.

Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
Clean up crews examine the damage at a train car derailment southwest of LaSalle, Colo. on May 9, 2014. Officials found one car of the 100-car train was leaking crude. Such occasional derailments have followed the increase in the number of trains transporting fuel around the country.

A 16-car train went off its tracks near Lake Erie on Wednesday, and more than 50 homes in Ripley, N.Y., were evacuated as officials worked to contain leaking fuel.

The Norfolk Southern train was carrying fuel, and two of the 16 derailed cars began leaking ethanol when a patched puncture and gasket gave way. The sheriff reported no injuries, and crews from Norfolk Southern were preparing to remove any soil contaminated by the fuel leak, spokesman Dave Pidgeon told Reuters.

The Associated Press reported that the derailment has interrupted Amtrak passenger service between Chicago and New York City. Amtrak said the eastbound Lake Shore Limited is being stopped Wednesday at Cleveland while the westbound train is being halted at Buffalo. Buses are being used to ferry passengers in both directions to stations in the two cities.

"We want to make sure we get life back to normal, train traffic back to normal, as soon as we can, but we have to do this safely," said Pidgeon.

Norfolk Southern trains derailed on 608 occasions in 2015, meaning the company accounted for almost 11 percent of derailing accidents nationwide that year, according to Department of Transportation statistics. The railroad company had the third-highest number of derail incidents in the nation but declined from 2014, as it is one of the largest rail companies in the country.

In the New York derailment on Wednesday, a timeline for clean-up has not yet been announced. One car spilled plastic pellets, but a derailed propane car did not leak.

Derailments, and sometimes even explosions, by trains carrying fuel around the country have shaken local communities multiple times in recent years. These incidents have usually left locals more unnerved than injured, but have occasionally resulted in deaths.  The accidents have occurred as the number of trains transporting fuel around the country has increased by 4,000 percent since 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads, a sometimes unnoticed side effect of the growing domestic oil industry.

In February 2015, the federal government announced in a report based on Department of Transportation data that it forecast trains carrying oil and other fuel to derail about 10 times each year over the next two decades, the Associated Press reported.

In response, the Obama administration has created new safety regulations, and Congress passed a transportation bill that, among other things, required trains to install Positive Train Control (PTC). PTC is a GPS technology to help prevent train collisions and over-speed derailments, as well as trains moving into work areas without permission. Thus far, the installation has moved slowly and already missed deadlines, but it remains ongoing, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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