Despite efforts in recent years to shore up and repair the nation’s bridges, last week saw yet another bridge collapse – this time a railroad bridge in New Jersey. As our Chicago train accident attorneys know, bridge collapses can be among the most devastating of train accidents, as numerous cars often derail and endanger both those on the train and those below.
The bridge spanned the Mantua creek, which leads to the Delaware River just outside Philadelphia. The bridge is privately-owned by Conrail (itself owned by CSX Corp and Norfolk Southern Corp), and is described as “very old.” It was, however, repaired recently – with extensive work done after a coal train derailed in the same spot in 2009.
In some ways, the crash was fortunate – the train on the bridge at the time was not a passenger train. However, the train contained vinyl chloride, an industrial chemical which is both flammable and highly toxic. When seven of the train’s cars derailed, over 12,000 gallons of the chemical was spilled into both the air and the water.
Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, has assured the public that there is “minimal” danger to the health of those who may be exposed to the chemical. Authorities contained the leak and used boom technology to trap the chemical in the water.
Our Chicago train accident lawyers, however, are not convinced. Vinyl chloride is extremely toxic, and authorities were not able to act quickly enough to prevent the spread of the chemical downstream. It remains to be seen just how much of the chemical has now worked its way into local waterways and groundwater, and it may be years before the true effects of the environmental contamination are revealed.
As for the crash itself, authorities are still stating that the cause of the crash is undetermined. However, two days prior to the crash, a local homeowner reported hearing a “loud bang” from the bridge. Workers from Conrail were then dispatched to examine the bridge, but either found nothing or took no action.
As details of the inspection and the crash emerge, we will learn whether these workers could have taken action to prevent this environmental disaster. But it appears to our train accident attorneys that with this adequate warning, it is likely that steps could have been taken to prevent the accident – even the simple expedient of closing the bridge and rerouting trains until engineers could confirm the stability of the bridge.
It is time for railroad companies to take responsibility for the state of their tracks and bridges. Although no lives were lost this time – at least directly – that could easily not have been the case. We encourage all those whose lives and property were impacted by this crash to demand compensation from Conrail, and take legal action if necessary. It will only be when victims of all train accidents begin to stand up and demand justice that these companies will take seriously their responsibility to ensure safety on our nation’s lines.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago train accident lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.