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Year after derailment, Hyndman remains on edge

August 4, 2018
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FILE – In this Aug. 8, 2017, file photo, workers clean up the site of a CSX Transportation freight train derailment that forced the evacuation of most residents for nearly four days in Hyndman, Pa. Although there were no injuries, the predawn derailment of 33 train cars on Aug. 2, 2017, sparked fires from tanker cars carrying liquid propane, destroying one home and garage near the site of the derailment. (Steve Bittner/Cumberland Times-News via AP, File)

HYNDMAN, Pa. (AP) — As Beverly Shaffer sits at a Hyndman railroad crossing waiting for a train to pass, she’s reminded of a derailment nearly a year ago that uprooted her neighbors and caused havoc in this rural Bedford County community.

“We’ve had floods, the train derailments,” the Hyndman Road resident said. “It just seems it’s one thing after another. I’m ready to get out.”

CSX Transportation’s response in the aftermath of the Aug. 2, 2017, derailment was “outstanding” — but not so much when it comes to solving routine train delays in the borough, Bedford County Commissioner Barry Dallara said.

Thirty-three cars derailed just before dawn on that Wednesday morning, sparking fires from tanker cars carrying liquid propane and causing an evacuation of most of the community’s 1,000 residents for nearly four days. Although there were no injuries, one home and garage near the crash site were destroyed.

Dallara said many “communication attempts with CSX” have been made to remedy the train delay situation.

“The management at CSX that could alter that situation has not been responsive at all,” he said.

Shaffer said she gets stopped on the tracks at least once a week.

“There was a train stopped out there last last week for five hours,” she said. “It’s a common occurrence. I feel like we are a small town and it doesn’t really matter.

“Everybody’s on edge,” Shaffer said. “We had a second derailment last year. It’s scary.”

“It could happen again. You just have to hope and pray it doesn’t,” Londonderry Township Chairman Steve Stouffer, said.

‘I can’t sleep’

Alice Murray doesn’t get much rest these days.

“I can’t sleep at night. It makes me not want to be here,” said Murray, who lives on Cleveland Street, about 30 yards from the derailment site.

Murray’s neighbor’s house was destroyed and the adjacent house heavily damaged by the derailment. Both structures have since been removed.

“I was in bed and it shook the whole house,” she said. “I looked out and thought my neighbor’s house was on fire but it was the train behind it.”

Murray and her husband, Kenneth, were displaced for 11 days. They stayed at a LaVale motel, courtesy of CSX, which paid for the accommodations.

The Murrays still wonder if their house has structural damage stemming from the derailment.

“CSX inspected our house but we never heard any more from them on the inspection,” Kenneth Murray said.

The delays

Bob Walls, the borough’s emergency management coordinator, expressed concern about the crossing delays.

“Two days ago, we responded to an automatic fire alarm at the Melware Apartments on Fifth Avenue and we were delayed five to eight minutes to get across the tracks,” Walls said recently. “Employees of the Hyndman Area Health Center went over to check on those residents since they knew the train was preventing us from getting there.”

“CSX could make it less disruptive,” Dallara said. “But it’s like the big bully. They just do what they want to do and it’s not right.”

Jordan Hiquet lives in Buffalo Mills and works in Cumberland.

“Different places have different things to worry about,” Hiquet said. “If you live in Hyndman, you worry about a train blocking the tracks. Life gives you stuff. You just adapt,” said Hiquet, a respiratory therapist at the Western Maryland Regional Medical Center.

Dale Pensyl Jr. of Hyndman said it took him two hours to go from the “upper” crossing to Second Avenue one day last week due to a train stopped on the tracks.

“It’s just part of life in Hyndman,” he said. “We just wait at the tracks. There’s no other way around when the train blocks all three crossings.”

The crossings are located at Hogback Road where the Aug. 2 derailment occurred at the northern edge of town and at Market Street and Center Street in the heart of town.

“Train delays have been going on as long as I’ve lived here,” Vernon Slaubaugh, a Hyndman resident of two decades said. “It’s worse in the last couple years because the trains are longer. That’s what CSX workers tell us. I waited two hours not too long ago when I was coming home from Bedford.”

Residents talk about a makeshift detour outside of town that crosses at the edge of Wills Creek and beneath CSX bridge. If the creek is not high and the gate at the end of the road is not locked, drivers may navigate the detour from Creek Road over to the Cunningham Drive area. The area is known as “the pit.”

Bedford County Commissioner Josh Lang said discussions have occurred at various times to develop alternate routes but there is “not a lot of headway on that.”

Almost one an hour

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, a total of 21 trains go through Hyndman in a 24-hour period — 19 freight trains and two Amtrak passenger trains.

As for passenger rail, the Amtrak trains, one eastbound and one westbound, pass through Hyndman as part of the Capital Limited route between Washington and Chicago. Hyndman is not a scheduled stop but falls between the Cumberland and Connellsville, Pennsylvania, station stop, according to the Federal Railroad Administration public affairs specialist Desiree French.

CSX response

Playground equipment at the former Hyndman Elementary School site was inaccessible and surrounded by weeds and high grass when CSX Transportation officials took notice.

That was the week of Aug. 2 following the derailment and after CSX officials set up a communication center at the HOPE for Hyndman Charter School.

“They noticed the weeds around the playground equipment and they offered to cut the grass,” Ron Scritchfield, Londonderry Township secretary-treasurer, said.

The property was posted for no trespassing and CSX officials quickly offered to move the playground equipment.

“We had it moved to the Hyndman-Londonderry Lions Club Park,” Scritchfield said. “It cost $8,450 to move the equipment and CSX gave the township a check for $10,000, to pay for the move.”

Hyndman residents expressed gratitude for the CSX response following the derailment. Residents were accommodated at motels throughout the area and CSX paid the costs of rooming and meals.

Some of the evacuees staying in Cumberland became victims of vandalism when tires were slashed on their vehicles. CSX paid to replace the tires.

A CSX spokesman said the company continues to work closely with Hyndman Borough officials to address any remaining impacts from the derailment, including roadway repairs.

“CSX is proud of the strong relationships we have built in Hyndman and we are committed to maintaining the open dialogue we have developed over the years,” the CSX spokesman said. “Officials and first responders have direct access to CSX managers should they have any issues or concerns.”

The investigation

Last year’s derailment remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Such investigations typically take a year or longer and the federal agency has given no indication how soon a final report will be issued.

A preliminary report by the NTSB on Aug. 22, 2017, found the 178-car train experienced air brake problems prior to the accident.

According to the report, two crews were involved in the movement of the train. The first crew stopped the train as it traveled down a hill after encountering brake problems. Fifty-eight hand brakes were applied and the air brake system was recharged.

The conductor of that crew found an air leak on a railcar about 20 railcars from the rear of the train, according to the report, and a CSX mechanic employee arrived to repair the issue.

Before the train continued on, the first crew’s shift ended and was replaced by a new crew, which reportedly continued to encounter air brake problems.

The hand brakes were kept on as the crew “unsuccessfully tried to pull the train down the hill,” according to the report.

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