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Agency Says Railroad Failed to Follow Track Maintenance Rules

July 2, 1987

MIAMISBURG, Ohio (AP) _ A federal agency concluded Wednesday that CSX Transportation Corp. caused a phosphorus tanker derailment and five-day fire last July by violating its own track maintenance rules.

The Federal Railroad Administration report said the July 8 accident, which forced 30,000 people to flee Dayton’s southern suburbs, was caused by a 5-inch shift in the rails from the 90-degree heat.

The report said the failure to require trains passing over a newly repaired section to slow to 10 mph led to the ″sun kink.″

″Our engineering rules did not mandate the imposition of a slow order under those conditions,″ said Lindsay Leckie, a CSX spokesman in Jacksonville, Fla.

The southbound train was going 45 mph when 15 of the 44 cars derailed. That exposed 12,000 gallons of yellow phosphorus to air, in which it spontaneously burned, producing a towering plume of acidic smoke.

City officials worried that a nearby tanker of sulfur could burn with the phosphorus, producing a deadly gas.

Leckie said CSX can show that the derailment occurred on a bridge over a creek, rather than north of the bridge, which is where the administration said the sun kink occurred.

The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating, but has yet to issue a report. However, a recently released subcommittee report also questioned whether CSX followed the maintenance rules.

The railroad administration report said a slow order, requiring trains to reduce speed, is needed when the temperature is less than 75 degrees when work begins and it then rises to above 85 degrees. Leckie said work began that day when the temperature already was above 85.

He said the maintenance crew watched one train pass safely ″and concluded the track was stable and that eliminated the need for a slow order.″

The railroad administration said the rule was ″ambiguous and possibly misleading″ and the interpretation ″violates common sense and common industry experience.″

The lack of a slow order ″increased the likelihood that the track would buckle″ and increased the severity of the accident, but a lack of temperature records that should have been kept by CSX made a conculsive ruling impossible, the report said.

Leckie denied that any records were not properly kept.

At the time of the fire, FRA Executive Director William E. Loftus said it prompted the largest evacuation ever in connection with a U.S. rail accident.

According to the report, 565 people were treated for injuries or illnesses resulting from the phosphorus cloud, and 18 were hospitalized.

CSX estimated $430,100 in damage to the track and bridge, not including environmental cleanup, which continues. But in a recent court filing, CSX said it had paid more than $1 million in claims. The railroad also faces more than $1 billion in lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Lawyer David Chicarelli, who represents those suing CSX, said the report ″gives more credibility to everything we have been saying. It makes more viable the claim for punitive damages.″

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