Prelim Report: Rail defect may have caused derailment

Photos by Rebecca Panico and Courtesy of the Union Fire Deparment
A freight train derailment on Dec. 9 caused multiple cars to pile upon each other along the tracks one-quarter of a mile from the Union train station.

UNION, NJ — A preliminary report regarding the freight train that derailed near the Union Train Station in December shows it may have been caused by a rail defect.

Reports were submitted recently to the Federal Railroad Administration by CSX Transportation, which operated the train cars, and by Conrail, which owns the tracks. Both reports list “head and web separation (outside joint bar limits)” as the cause of the Dec. 8 derailment.
A CSX spokesperson who discussed the report with LocalSource declined to elaborate about what that means, stating Conrail took the lead in the investigation since the ultimate cause dealt with the tracks.

Conrail spokeswoman Jocelyn Hill did not respond to multiple requests for comments about the report.
According to an FRA reference manual from 2015, a head and web separation is a developmental defect of the rail that occurs over time that may eventually cause the rail to fracture.

CSX said it was thankful there were no injuries in the derailment and expressed appreciation to local first responders.
“We just appreciate everyone’s assistance and we’re glad that everyone was safe through this,” the company said.

Of the 141 cars on the freight train, 31 derailed while going approximately 34 mph, the CSX report stated. There were 25 cars carrying hazardous materials, four of which were damaged or derailed, the report stated. None of the hazardous material spilled, the report said.

It’s not immediately clear how expensive the damage to the rail was. Damages were estimated at $642,610 in one section of the report and $1.1 million in another.

CSX referred questions about the railroad to Conrail, which did not respond to requests for comment on March 23 and 26. According to CSX, the damage estimate for the track was a preliminary number received from Conrail.

“There was a second round of updates to that track figure,” a CSX spokesperson said. “I would ask that you speak to Conrail for that information.”
No one was injured or evacuated during the derailment, which occurred a quarter mile west of the station, causing a suspension of two and a half days in NJ Transit rail service and resulting in traffic snarls on several roads, particularly along Morris Avenue, as police and fire crews responded.

Fire Chief Mike Scanio previously told LocalSource around the time of the initial accident that repair crews had towed away some train cars, while others were pushed to the side so rail repairs could begin.

It is not immediately clear if the the all the tracks have been completely repaired yet.
NJ Transit previously said in a statement that the Raritan Valley Line, which runs through Union, had resumed regular weekday service by Dec. 11.
“NJ Transit is grateful that Conrail was able to complete the necessary repairs over the weekend in time to restore regular weekday service for our customers for their Monday morning commutes,’’ said NJ Transit Executive Director Steven H. Santoro in the December statement.

Desiree French, a spokesperson for the FRA, said the federal agency will notify media when it completes its own report.