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Middlebury rail line could open Thursday

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Fire Chief Richard Cole reported late Wednesday afternoon reported substantial progress in the clean up of the train derailment that shut down much of downtown Middlebury on Monday.

Vermont Railway officials on Tuesday tentatively cited a broken section of rail line as the cause of a train accident that toppled 18 cargo cars in downtown Middlebury on Monday, sending an undetermined amount of gasoline into the Otter Creek.

Fire, police and state environmental officials, fearing an explosion or adverse health effects from breathing gasoline fumes from the spill, cordoned off most of downtown Middlebury to traffic for almost 24 hours after the 2 p.m. accident. During that time crews evaluated the site and began moving the rail car wreckage while keeping the gasoline spill to a minimum.

As of Wednesday afternoon officials said they hoped to have the line open again by late Thursday.

While the accident temporarily inconvenienced motorists and an estimated 400 to 500  residents of the Cross Street/Main Street/South Pleasant Street neighborhoods who had to
be evacuated, Middlebury officials breathed a collective sigh of relief realizing that no one had been hurt and that things could have been a whole lot
worse.

“We are so thankful this was not a catastrophe,” said
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington. A nightmare scenario would’ve seen the
train — heading through Middlebury on its way to Burlington from Albany, N.Y. —
derail around 100 yards further north up the tracks, directly under the Merchants
Row and Main Street overpasses. Had the gasoline ignited under those
circumstances, Dunnington said a chain reaction of explosions could have caused
fatalities while potentially destroying the nearby Middlebury Fire Department
headquarters on Seymour Street and the Battell Bridge, the town’s one major
span crossing the Otter Creek and linking the eastern and western sections of
Middlebury. That, in turn, would have reduced access to Porter Hospital.

On Monday shortly after 2 p.m. a Vermont Rail train
overturned on tacks next to the Otter Creek and across the water from Bakery
Lane in downtown Middlebury.

The freight train consisted of 25
cars/tankers, 18 of which overturned. Fourteen of the 15 tanker cars containing
gasoline overturned, while four cars carrying rock salt also derailed.
Officials believe seven of the overturned fuel tankers had leaks, with one
having what was considered to be a “major” leak.

Cole said on Wednesday that seven of the toppled fuel cars
and four salt cars had been placed back on the railway.

He said there had been “fabulous cooperation” among the
local, state and federal authorities and contractors who were tending to what
he called the most significant accident he had seen in his 30 years on the
Middlebury Fire Department.

“Everyone has been great and worked well together,” Cole
said. “We had close to 400,000 gallons of gasoline here and could’ve had a real
disaster.”

David Wulfson, president of Vermont Railway, estimated train
traffic would be restored on the line as soon as Thursday evening. Once the
rail right-of-way is cleared, Wulfson said crews would build 300 feet of track
from scratch, while repairing another 1,000 feet.

“That really isn’t that much, considering what we were
looking at earlier,” Wulfson said.

He added state and federal authorities, in concert with
Vermont Railway, will certify the tracks’ stability before it is reopened to
freight traffic.

“Right now, our track department will do the work and also
the inspections,” Wulfson said. “We also have the Federal Railroad
Administration here who will also be looking at the track and making sure that
things are done correctly.”

 

 

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