Derailed Communication?

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - Could communication problems encountered during a train derailment Thursday prove to be a big problem in the future?

The derailment happened Thursday morning near UT's Campus.

A CSX switch engine was moving hopper cars of phosphate pellet fertilizer when an axle gave way.

One of the cars spilled about 500 pounds of pellets.

No one was injured and authorities say no one was ever in any danger. Still, firefighters say communication could have been better.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd has been looking into training, and what could be a lesson learned for all involved.

CSX's switchyard butts up to UT's Campus, right in the bend of Volunteer Boulevard, where hundreds of students bed and board.

Timing, knowing what to do when, is a key to dealing with any potentially hazardous material.

Confusion may have gotten in the way.

This nice, a month away from Spring, the guys on UT's Fraternity Row would rather gather in the front yard, than think about the neighbor directly in back.

"You can hear them every now and then, but other than that, you don't think about it," says Stuart Saylor, UT Senior and Fraternity Row resident.

Them, as in the trains in CSX's Transflow Switchyard, but when the one containing phosphate fertilizer pellets spilled, "About 3-500 pounds lying on the ground. It's contained, its not any danger to the public because it's in that solid form," says KFD's Darrell Whitaker.

Firefighters figured CSX could handle the cleanup itself.

Except:

"We have no one available as a spokesperson for you," CSX told WVLT.

Hazmat crews say CSX gave them that same response when they first got there.

"I'm not sure they knew they could talk to us and who was supposed to talk to us for them," says Captain Les Gibbs, from the Knoxville Fire Hazardous Materials Unit.

"By the way they were walking around, I think they felt like there was no danger, I would have to assume that they knew what they were dealing with," Whitaker says.

Once Hazmat knows what its dealing with, crews have whole bibles telling them how.

"It's gonna give us isolation, evacuation, health problems, first aid," Whitaker says. "If it's a fire or leak what we might or might not use on a particular chemical."

Crews say that really came into play when UT's Engineering tower caught fire mid-November

But given all that comes through CSX's Transflow terminal.

"There's no way you could sit there and be aware of every type because there are federal regulations, government regulations governing those aspects and we have to rely on them being compliant," Whitaker says.

A CSX corporate spokeswoman says the terminal crews, and firefighters have known who the go-to guy for info was.

Or at least whom to call.

"The UT Police Department was on the scene, so in some kind of way they were notified, but I don't see whether they were in any danger at any point no," says Captain Gibbs.

Nor did the guys on fraternity row.

"I'm sure most of us were asleep when that happened this morning," Saylor says.

Knoxville firefighters say they'll debrief with CSX once the scene is clear.

Other rail lines, they say, offer detailed training teaming with first responders.

UT administrators got the official word from campus police.

A spokesman says they have no complaints.


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