Two CSX maintenance employees working in the area were hospitalized at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the company, and hazmat crews worked to clean leaking diesel fuel from the locomotives.
“This is what makes you lose sleep,” acting Newburghfire Chief Terry Ahlers said.
Firefighters and police confronted a surreal scene when they responded to the accident. In addition to the engine blocking Water Street, they found train cars resting sideways and leaning, a utility pole knocked askew and debris littering the roadway.
The train was traveling from Selkirk, and its three locomotives were pulling 38 cars with freight and 39 empty cars on its way to Waycross, Ga., according to CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle. The first 20 cars derailed, including seven with hazardous materials, he said.
Four cars contained sulfuric acid, two contained sodium hydroxide and one carried aqueous bisulfites, Doolittle said. There were no leaks or spills of hazardous materials, he said.
“CSX will work as quickly as safety allows to remove the derailed cars and restore the area of the derailment,” Doolittle said. “CSX apologizes for any inconvenience that this incident may cause and we appreciate area residents’ patience while we work to restore the scene.”
Kevin Way, a Steelways employee, said he was blocking traffic while the employee driving the lift crossed Water Street. He heard the train’s whistle blow and then the gates came down “really fast,” he said.
Way said he grew alarmed as his co-worker initially tried to get the lift clear of the tracks before the train reached the crossing.
“I screamed at him to get out of the basket,” he said. “There was no way that he was going to get if off at that point.”
Steelways owner David Plotkin was in his office when he heard a “boom” and then saw smoke from the derailment. He then ordered his employees to evacuate the building.
Joni Dunning Armstrong of New Windsor said she and her son were sitting at a stop light on River Road when the train derailed.
“I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw a train, on fire, jump the tracks and head up the road behind us. We called 911 and went to see if we could do anything,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said the fire coming from the train could have been sparks.
CSX had recently been conducting repairs at the crossing, which Steelways’ employees routinely use to cross Water Street between the Steelways properties, Plotkin said. He and another employee said they believe the train was nearly at the crossing before the gates lowered.
“I don’t think they came down in a timely fashion or he would have been able to cross,” Plotkin said. “The train was almost on top of it (the lift) before the gates came down.”
Detours set up to divert northbound and southbound traffic around the accident scene led to rush-hour backups in both the City of Newburgh and along Route 9W between the city and New Windsor.
The stretch of Water Street impacted by the accident is expected to be closed for at least two days as state police investigate for any criminal conduct, and CSX and the Federal Railroad Administration probe the cause.
It was just last summer that first-responders gathered in Newburgh to practice responding to a train derailment, Orange County Emergency Services Commissioner Brendan Casey said.
Newburgh was chosen because the tracks carry hazardous freight through a densely populated area that includes waterfront restaurants and businesses, and residents who live along the train corridor. The accident occurred just north of Global Oil’s New Windsor terminal.
“There’s tractor trailers full of gasoline that come up and down this road,” Casey said. “Could you imagine if this hit one of those?”