NTSB: Switch Led to Deadly S.C. Collision, Evacuations

GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – At least nine people were killed and thousands evacuated from their homes after two trains collided, which resulted in toxic chlorine gas leaking.

Hundreds of people were treated for a variety of injuries and at least 58 people were hospitalized, about a dozen in serious condition. A toxic cloud of gas leaked into area neighborhoods and the nearby Avondale Mills plant, which employs hundreds on its graveyard shift.

“The initial evidence obtained suggests that the Norfolk Southern Railway, which owned the trains and the tracks involved, is responsible for this accident and will be held accountable to the victims of this avoidable and senseless tragedy,” said attorney Howard Spier, a member of the board of directors for The Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys, a national organization of trial lawyers who concentrate on railway litigation.

Authorities say a Norfolk Southern freight train ran into a second, parked train at about 2:40 a.m. on Jan. 6. Authorities are probing whether a switch was locked for the siding where the parked cars were.

“We know that the switch was lined and locked for the siding,” The Associated Press quoted NTSB spokeswoman Debbie Hersman as saying. “We won’t conclude anything today and we won’t speculate about the cause of the accident until we have gathered all the information.”

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a Go-Team to investigate the collision and derailment.

“Because of the danger involving a train traveling through a populated area, the railroad must take every precaution,” said Spier, a partner at Rossman Baumberger Reboso & Spier. “Just a few months ago, a train killed five people in an automobile at a rail crossing near the derailment site, so the danger of railroad trains was fresh in the minds of the townspeople. The potential for a train disaster in this area should have been fresh in the mind of the Norfolk Southern Railway as well.”

In the November wreck, five people who worked at a nearby mill were trying to beat a freight train when the car in which they were riding was struck by a Norfolk Southern freight train.

Reports of attorneys looking for victims of the derailment and fraudulent insurance claim reports have already circulated, The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle has reported.

Published in the February 2005 edition of The Cross-Tie.