Work continues on railroad track after train derailment
by Jon Gargis and Marie Nesmith
Nov 07, 2010 | 3016 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rhonda and Howard Youmans discuss the grain filling an 8-foot deep gully behind their house on Pointe North Drive. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Portions of West Felton Road remained closed Saturday evening more than a day after a train derailed.

Friday about 10:15 a.m., a CSX train came off the tracks, spilling grain it was transporting. A representative with CSX said the train originated in Flint, Mich., and was on its way to Comer.

Immediately following the incident, Dwayne Jamison, Bartow County Fire Department division chief for special operations, said there had been no injuries and about 15 train cars had derailed.

"Our biggest concern is security and keeping the public away [from the scene] because the train cars are unstable right now," Jamison said shortly after the derailment, adding CSX personnel would be investigating the cause of the incident and it would be turned over to law enforcement.

Authorities had not announced a cause of the train's derailment by press time Saturday. Drivers were still having to take detours around the incident area Saturday evening. Capt. Colleen Cochran with the Bartow County Fire Department said that while she had been told that workers had hoped to have the road opened by 3 p.m. Saturday, the road remained closed hours later.

The Bartow County Fire Department was just one of the agencies that responded to Friday morning's incident. Also responding were the Cartersville Fire Department, Cartersville Police, Bartow County Sheriff's Office, Bartow EMA and CSX officials.

CSX workers were still taking apart some of the derailed cars Saturday, Cochran said, but firefighters did not have to remain on the scene the entire weekend since the incident did not involve hazardous materials.

"Thank goodness there were no other hazards other than the cars derailing. It was all agriculture, grain. Thank God for that," she said. "Basically, [we responded] to make sure that there are no hazards, and if we needed to evacuate, that would be the one thing that we would have done, start evacuating immediately. But once we got on the scene, we saw that we did not have to do that."

Another responder to Friday's incident was Bartow County School Resource Officer Chief Dan Knowles, who said he was the first on the scene. Dispatch had called him when he was on Felton Road and he arrived at the scene of the derailment, which was not far from Cloverleaf Elementary School.

"Once I got there, it wasn't a matter of a hazardous material, it was a matter of did we have a car up under the wreckage somewhere, did a car pull out in front of it," Knowles said. "The principal [Melinda Moe] told me she heard it and went outside to check on it. You couldn't help but hear it. It probably sounded like an earthquake and tornado together."

Knowles said that even though the incident happened near the school, the facility was not directly impacted.

"If the derailment had happened a couple hundred yards north of where it did, we would have had train cars right in the back yard of the school," he said. "The way the terrain is there, I don't think we would have had anything contact the school or damage the school -- it would just be right in our yard.

"That's one of the reasons of building the new school, not just [the old school's] age -- wanting to get away from the railroad tracks," Knowles added, referring to Bartow County Schools' plans to build a replacement Cloverleaf Elementary; the district's school board chose an architect for the new school in September.

"If it had been some sort of toxic or hazardous material, we would have had a big situation on our hands. I'm sure there's hazardous materials that pass by that school every day," Knowles added. "We just got lucky on this one."

But Knowles said the possibility of a train crash involving hazardous materials is in the district's safety plan, and if such an incident happened, it would require officials to start evacuating kids.

"We've never drilled it out there, but we have it on paper what we would do," he said, adding that area safety officials may look at a potential hazardous scenario in the near future.

"Every quarter, we have an area emergency management meeting, and I'm guessing that's going to be the topic of the next one, and we'll probably do some tabletop exercise around that," Knowles said.

Though the Friday morning incident did not pose a significant danger to Cloverleaf students and staff, it did impact the school slightly later in the day. While the school dismissed at a normal time, some students arrived home a little bit later than usual.

"[This] did delay our afternoon kids from getting home, probably by about 15 to 20 minutes," Bartow County Schools Transportation Director Jody Elrod said. "We've got two regular ed. routes and some special needs kids also on the opposite side of the tracks. What we do in this case is basically the same as we do when they're working on the railroad crossing -- go back down Tennessee Street, get on 41 and come in from the back way."

Elrod said he too saw the scene of the derailment shortly after it happened.

"That was something to see," he said. "It was really hard to tell how many rail cars were off in there, because there were so many on top of the other."

-- Some information from the Associated Press was used in this report.