By Christie Duffy
Two years after the toxic spill in Paulsboro, the NTSB’s final investigation report determines that the crew was met with a red signal on the bridge. They radioed to dispatch for the moveable bridge to be locked. The NTSB report says the conductor had no formal training before he inspected the bridge and “erroneously” concluded it was locked. The dispatcher gave the train permission to pass. Moments later, half the train was off the rails.
The NTSB determined the key cause of the derailment to be two things: Conrail “allowing the train to pass the red signal” with rail locks “not fully engaged” and a lack of proper training that would have “prepared the train crew to examine the bridge lock.”
The NTSB found contributing factors to the accident included a “lack of a comprehensive safety management program that would have identified and mitigated risks associated with the continued operation of the bridge despite multiple bridge malfunctions of increasing frequency” and “the failure of the incident commander to implement” “hazardous materials response protocols”.
Gary Stevenson was the deputy fire chief the day the disaster happened right in his backyard.
“We need to do things different the next time this happens. I hope all of us responders have learned from that incident. So we can apply it and spread that knowledge out to other fire departments within the state,” said Paulsboro Councilman Stevenson.
Stevenson says he’d like to see the surrounding towns here get together, along with Conrail, to go over the report, to form an emergency evacuation plan in case a disaster like this ever happens again.
Stevenson says he could see there were problems with the bridge for years, and that he brought his concerns to Conrail before the crash. NTSB records show that train crews crossing the bridge had reported problems 23 times in the year leading up to the crash. Nearly half of their complaints came in the final month.
According to the report, Conrail also hired an engineer who recommended they shut down the bridge for it be fixed. The NTSB found Conrail considered that option, but never followed through.
Today, Conrail is replacing the bridge with what they say is a stronger structure.
Irma Stevenson, Gary’s mother, is one of the many Paulsboro residents suing Conrail over the crash.
“It think they owe the whole town of Paulsboro something. It has really put a stigma on Paulsboro,” she said.
Attorney Mark Cuker represents over 1,000 families suing. And he says what happened next is missing from the report.
“We believe there was additional mismanagement, additional releases of vinyl chloride. That’s not discussed in the report,” Cuker said.
Conrail responded to the final report today, stating, “Conrail is evaluating the NTSB findings and recommendations and will implement all appropriate measures. We regret this incident and its impact on those that it affected. We have also redoubled our efforts to work with first responders to address hazardous material response.”
Lawmakers have recently called for greater safety standards for railroad companies. Industry Regulator, the federal railway administration, says they’re working on the recommendations in the NTSB report.