Lucy Schaly  /  Beaver County Times
Flames and smoke rise Saturday from a derailed Norfolk Southern train in New Brighton, Pa. Twenty-three cars containing ethanol derailed on a bridge over the Beaver River in New Brighton, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, on Friday night.
updated 10/22/2006 7:12:56 PM ET 2006-10-22T23:12:56

Railroad crews worked to clear the wreckage of a derailed train from the tracks Sunday as evacuated residents began returning to homes near the bridge where the locomotive ran off the tracks and burst into flames.

The train pulling 86 tanker cars was traveling from Chicago to New Jersey when it derailed Friday in southwest Pennsylvania. At least nine of the cars leaked ethanol, also known as grain alcohol, and caught fire. No one was injured.

About 50 nearby residents were evacuated for fear of possible explosions. Most were allowed to return home Sunday, except for a handful of people.

“The area that we are restricting at this time is the area immediately adjacent to the existing site,” said New Brighton Borough Manager Larry Morley. “Some of those homes are within 100 feet.”

Fire Chief Jeffrey Bolland said four or five homes would remain off limits while firefighters continue working. Two tanker cars from the toppled train were still burning Sunday.

A family assistance center was set up at a church, where Norfolk Southern representatives offered to compensate residents who had to spend the night in hotels and pay for meals away from home.

Data recorders removed
Federal investigators have removed data recorders from the train. Agents from the National Transportation Safety Board on Saturday also removed a section of track that was broken in two when 23 cars from the train’s midsection derailed.

Robert Sumwalt, vice chairman of the safety board, said preliminary indications from the train’s data recorders showed that the train was traveling 36 to 39 mph when it crashed. The speed limit is 45 mph along the rail bridge over the Beaver River.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband would not comment on the condition of the half-mile long bridge before the accident, but said company officials inspect mainline tracks like the ones on the bridge at least twice a week.

Railroad engineers will examine the bridge for structural soundness, but Sumwalt said they cannot conduct inspections until the burning cars are removed.

NTSB officials planned to gather maintenance records and interview witnesses, including train crew members.

The derailment happened about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh on tracks used by 50 to 70 trains each day. Husband said officials were working on a detour plan.

The derailment was affecting Amtrak’s Capitol Limited, which makes one round trip daily between Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Until that section of track reopens, each one-way trip will take about 2½ hours longer because the train is being detoured onto tracks between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said.

Also Sunday, a train carrying a potentially flammable liquid derailed near a residential area in southwest Arkansas, causing churches to cancel services and prompting evacuation orders for as many as 75 people. No injuries were reported.

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