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Guard Flees For Safety as Coal Train Derails

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
September 27, 2017
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Above: A CSX police officer guards the scene of a train derailment in Downtown McKeesport on Wednesday. Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

(Updated with comments from CSX Transportation.)
(Updated with comments from Amtrak.)

No injuries were reported Wednesday afternoon when a CSX coal train derailed behind McKeesport's public safety building on Lysle Boulevard.

Ten loaded 100-ton coal cars were toppled in the derailment, with three overturned in the parking lot of Dura-Bond Industries' electric resistance weld mill.

Witnesses said that the derailing cars narrowly missed the guard shack at Dura-Bond --- the former U.S. Steel McKeesport Tubular Operations plant --- forcing a security guard inside to flee to safety. A utility pole near the guard shack was knocked over.

"It sounded like an earthquake in the building," said McKeesport firefighter John Munsie, who watched the derailment just before 12:30 p.m. from the entrance to the fire station.

(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said Wednesday afternoon that the cause of the derailment is unknown but is under investigation.

The train, consisting of two locomotives and 126 cars carrying coal, was bound from Grafton, W.V., to Monaca, Beaver County, when the derailment occurred, Doolittle said.

CSX has suspended train traffic through McKeesport, Doolittle said, but added it's "too early" in the process to estimate "how long traffic may be held or how long the restoration process might take."

The tracks are also used by Amtrak's Capitol Limited passenger trains between Chicago and Washington, D.C. The nearest stops are in Pittsburgh and Connellsville, Fayette County.

Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said Wednesday night the passenger railroad was monitoring the situation in McKeesport but did not yet know whether those trains would need to be re-routed, or if a replacement service, such as buses, would have to be added.

The mile-long train was crossing the Youghiogheny River from lower 10th Ward into Downtown when the accident occurred.

"Trains go by so often here, it's like second-nature to us," Munsie said. "Then I looked down the track and saw dust and gravel getting thrown up, and I realized the train was coming off the tracks."

The train didn't appear to be traveling particularly fast, he said. When the train separated, the locomotives came to a stop further down the track, behind the Eat'n Park.

Munsie has been a McKeesport firefighter for 15 years. "This is the first derailment I've seen, but it's something we talk about all the time," he said. The fire station is separated from the CSX tracks by only a sidewalk and Fourth Avenue, a one-lane street.

The end of the train stopped at the Perry Street crossing in lower 10th Ward.

Several hundred feet of rail appeared to have been damaged in the derailment. CSX maintenance-of-way employees were on the scene, assessing the damage.

A spokesperson for the McKeesport Trail Commission said the portion of the Great Allegheny Passage alongside the tracks behind the McKeesport War Memorial would be out of service temporarily while crews worked to remove the derailed cars and repair the damaged track.

CSX was grateful to McKeesport police, firefighters and paramedics for their quick response to the accident scene, Doolittle said, "and their assistance in protecting the public as we work to assess the situation and recover from the derailment." 

(All photos special to Tube City Almanac)

Originally published September 27, 2017.

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