Graniteville train disaster

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The Graniteville train disaster is an American rail disaster that occurred on January 6, 2005, in Graniteville, South Carolina.

The disaster occurred at roughly 2:40 a.m. Eastern Standard Time when two trains, owned by Norfolk Southern, collided near an Avondale Mills plant in Graniteville. One train, Norfolk Southern train number P22, was parked on a siding near the Avondale Mills plant; due to an improperly-lined railroad switch, the other train, train number 192 which was transporting chlorine gas, sodium hydroxide and cresol, was diverted into the siding and collided with the parked train. The collision derailed both locomotives and 16 of train 192's 42 freight cars and derailed the locomotive and one of P22's two freight cars; one of 192's tank cars loaded with chlorine ruptured, which resulted in the release of at least 90 tons of the gas into the environment. Ten people died (nine at the time of the accident, one later due to chlorine inhalation), and at least 250 people were treated for chlorine exposure.

5400 residents within a mile of the crash site were forced to evacuate for nearly two weeks while HAZMAT teams and cleanup crews decontaminated the area.

List of fatalities

The following people lost their lives in the Graniteville train disaster:

  • Christopher Seeling, 28, of West Columbia, South Carolina, engineer of through train
  • Willie C. Shealey, 43, of Graniteville, employee of Avondale Mills, Inc.
  • John Laird, 24, of North Augusta, South Carolina, employee of Avondale Mills, Inc.
  • Rusty Rushton, 58, of Ridge Spring, South Carolina, employee of Avondale Mills, Inc.
  • Steven Bagby, 38, of Augusta, Georgia, employee of Avondale Mills, Inc.
  • Joseph L. Stone, of Quebec, Canada
  • Tony DeLoach, 56, of Graniteville

On April 21, 2005, one more fatality was attributed to the accident. Leonard Mathis, a brick mason in Graniteville, was driving home from a convenience store just after the accident occurred. On his route home, he passed through a portion of the chlorine cloud that resulted from the collision. His health deteriorated from that point until his death.

Economic consequences

Norfolk Southern Corporation has announced that it expects the disaster to cost in the range of $30 to $40 million (pretax). The monetary amount includes Norfolk Southern’s self-insurance retention under its insurance policies, as well as other uninsured costs. The amount does not include any fines or penalties that might be imposed.

On May 25, 2005, lawyers involved in the damages claims against Norfolk Southern announced that they had reached a preliminary agreement on settlements for area residents and business that were evacuated but did not seek medical attention. In this preliminary settlement, Norfolk Southern would offer each resident who was evacuated and did not seek medical attention within 72 hours of the accident a flat amount of $2,000 for the evacuation plus $200 per person per day of the evacuation. These amounts are separate from any property damage claims. Claims that involve injury or death are not included in this settlement, but are still being negotiated.

On May 22, 2006 Avondale Mills’ CEO Stephen Felker announced that it would permanently cease operations at all of its plants, corporate and sales offices by no later July 25, 2006 resulting in the unemployment of more than 4,000 workers across four states. Mr. Felker cited foreign competition and the derailment of January 6, 2005 as the primary reasons for the company's failure.

Findings and recommendations

On November 29, 2005, the NTSB issued a report officially blaming the accident on the previous train crew's failure to reline the switch for mainline operations. The report concluded that neither equipment failure nor crew fatigue or drug or alcohol use was a factor in the accident. It further concluded that the level and immediacy of emergency response to the accident was wholly appropriate for the situation.

As a result of this accident and a similar accident on the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway on January 8, 2005, the United States Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released to railroads a reminder of federal regulations on procedures for turnout operation and safety procedures. Among the federal rules regarding turnouts are:

  • The normal position for turnouts on mainline tracks is for mainline through traffic.
  • When trains are required to clear the mainline track, they will not report that the track is clear until there are no obstructions on the mainline track and all turnouts are set for the mainline position and locked in place.

The FRA further recommended that railroads should:

  • ensure that their internal regulations include adequate safety procedures regarding turnout position.
  • implement a paper trail to ensure adequate inspection of turnout position before a mainline track is declared cleared.

Related information

On May 24, 2005, Norfolk Southern was awarded the TRANSCAER National Achievement Award for 2004. TRANSCAER is an acronym for Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response, which aims to promote emergency preparedness among first responders and communities for accidents that involve chemical releases. Part of the reasons for NS's selection for this award were the emergency preparedness training that the railroad held in 18 of the 22 states through which the railroad hauls hazardous materials.

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