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Six cars derail in Whitley City train incident

By Eugenia Jones

Six of 198 cars of a northbound Norfolk Southern train derailed just south of the Lumber King crossing in Whitley City early Sunday (July 10, 2022) morning.  Four of the six derailed cars overturned.  According to Norfolk Southern’s Media Relations Manager Connor Spielmaker, Norfolk Southern crews and contractors were on scene quickly to clean up and make repairs.  After working all day on Sunday, train traffic was moving again by 11:00 p.m.  According to Spielmaker, Norfolk Southern is not currently releasing any more information about the incident; however, it is being investigated and reported to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA.)  Normal traffic on HWY 1651 was blocked for most of the day.

Photo by Derek Dobbs

Local first responders immediately went into action as soon as the 911 call concerning a derailment was received at 8:16 a.m.  According to Whitley City Fire Department Chief Tony Miller, the initial responsibility of local fire departments was to secure the scene as quickly as possible and determine if any hazardous substances were released so the public could be notified and evacuated if needed.  Fortunately, in this incident, no hazardous materials were released and the public was not in danger.

Photo by Eugenia Jones

“We flew the scene with a drone and determined there did not appear to be immediate leakage,” Miller said.  “We documented the numbers of each rail car and made contact with the train’s conductor as well as SR offices.  We determined the box cars were hauling paper products and the hopper was empty.”

According to Miller, it takes time to secure the scene with an accident of this nature.

“It all takes time,” Miller observed.  “Once public safety was affirmed, we continued to secure the scene while the train crew separated the uninvolved cars from the site on both north and south ends.  We continued to secure the scene throughout the day as repair resources arrived, cleared up the derailment, and made repairs.  Once congestion in the area was relieved, we reopened HWY 1651 to normal traffic.”

Photo by Eugenia Jones

After Norfolk Southern train crew separated and removed the uninvolved cars from the scene, contracted repair crews used excavators with claw attachments and sidewinders (side boom CATs) to pull and push wreckage to the side of the railway.  The track was repaired, and wreckage left by the side of the railroad will be removed at a later date.

“It’s like watching a small town of individuals and equipment move in to quickly clean a derailment up,” one bystander observed.

According to Miller, McCreary County’s local fire departments have planned for such an event over the years and conduct table top exercises every 3-5 years to prepare.

“We were lucky that nothing volatile was involved in this derailment,” Miller declared.  “We would like to thank the Methodist Church for the use of their facilities as well as the merchants that may have been impacted in the South Fork Plaza.  Our community was very fortunate in this instance.”

In addition to the Whitley City Fire Department, additional agencies responding locally included the South McCreary County Fire Department, McCreary County Emergency Management, and McCreary County Sheriff’s Department.

Photo by Eugenia Jones

(In the near future, The Voice plans to do an in-depth article concerning local emergency preparedness in the event of a train derailment involving hazardous materials.)

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