It’s been almost two years since a train derailed while crossing a bridge in Paulsboro, New Jersey, releasing 20,000 gallons of chemicals into the surrounding community.
In a report issued Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board found that Contrail personnel were at fault for sending the 82-car train across the bridge, which was insecure and unable to handle the load.
On the morning of Nov. 30, 2012, the train’s crew initially stopped before the bridge, which is owned and operated by Conrail, when a red signal indicated a problem.
The NTSB found that the inadequately trained conductors didn’t recognize the danger and decided to proceed.
The train stopped at 6:52 a.m., and was proceeding across the bridge by 7:02 a.m., according to the report.
In front of a committee of NTSB board members, investigator Paul Stancil said Conrail should have recognized that there was a mechanical failure with locks on the moveable section of the bridge.
“We found that Conrail should have recognized that there was a problem, and the probability and severity of an accident on this bridge should have prompted them to stop,” said Stancil.
His investigative team found the mechanical problem when it performed the exact same inspection that the conductors are required to perform at a red stop signal.
“We concluded that Conrail should have come up with that answer,” he said.
Michael Hotra, a spokesman for Conrail, said the company would evaluate the findings in the NTSB’s final report and implement the appropriate measures.
“I think it’s important to note that we’ve doubled our efforts to work with the first responders to address the hazardous material response, and we’re pleased to see an increase in first responder participation in the training we offer,” said Hotra.
NTSB investigators also found serious failure by first responders at the scene to establish proper hazardous material safety protocols. One derailed car carrying vinyl chloride was breached, releasing a cloud of chemical gas that sent 28 people to the hospital.
“I think the emergency response for this derailment was, in one word, abysmal,” said NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt. “I think the citizens of communities expect better and they count on, when there’s a disaster in their community, the emergency response system is going to protect them, and that did not happen in this case.”
An executive summary of the report lists, among other findings, that, “during the early hours following the accident, Consolidated Rail Corporation personnel did not immediately provide critical hazardous material information to emergency responders,” which the report says could have brought about a more safety-conscious response.
Paulsboro is home to about 6,000 people.
In the week following the incident, 66 percent of the area’s residents experienced new or worsening health, a survey conducted by the state found.
Since the 2012 incident, one wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed, and at least a thousand people have contacted a lawyer about suing Conrail.