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Derailed Train Wasn’t Speeding, ‘Black Box’ Indicates

May 7, 1987

CONFLUENCE, Pa. (AP) _ A train that derailed and killed a railroad control tower operator was obeying a 40 mph speed limit at the time of the accident, railroad officials said Thursday.

Blood and urine samples from the five-member crew were on the way to a Utah laboratory for testing for the presence of drugs or alcohol as investigators try to learn the cause of Wednesday’s derailment, said CSX Corp. spokesman Lindsay Lecki. The tests are required by law, he said.

Twenty-seven cars from the 116-car train jumped the track in the middle of town, killing the tower operator and forcing the evacuation of all of the community’s approximately 1,000 residents.

Residents were allowed to return to their homes later in the day after small propane leaks were plugged in two of the tankers. Minor leakage of other hazardous chemicals was reported from the other derailed cars, 21 of which contained only chemical residue.

One of two CSX tracks through Confluence was open Thursday, and the five crew members involved in the crash were returned to duty rather than suspended.

″There’s no reason to do that at this point. That would be prejudicing the situation,″ Lecki said from the Jacksonville, Fla., offices of the railroad, formerly called the Chessie System.

Lecki said the train’s speed, which matched the 40 mph limit, was recorded on a tape in a black box aboard one of the train’s three locomotives.

Wilbert Shipley, whose home borders the tracks, said he saw the rail cars ″flying by″ at a speed he estimated as 60 to 70 mph before Wednesday’s derailment.

Confluence Mayor George Virgin, who lives about 350 yards from the derailment site, said the speed limit in the area is too high.

He said CSX had ignored the town’s requests to reduce train speeds and repair track in the area.

Wednesday’s derailment was the third reported in Confluence this year. Twenty-eight boxcars of a CSX train derailed in Jan. 15 because of a broken rail, Lecki said. A few weeks later, a single tank car left the track but did not turn over or leak, the mayor said.

The derailment, coming on the heels of one in 75 miles to the northwest in Pittsburgh last month, prompted the Pittsburgh City Council to tentatively vote Wednesday to impose a 15 mph speed limit on trains there. Some 16,000 people had to be evacuated after a derailment in that city April 11.

Wendy DeMocker, a spokeswoman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said cities can set speed limits lower than the federal limits, but local officials would have to take the initiative to enforce them.

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