Train derails in downtown Suffolk

Published 9:27 am Saturday, February 4, 2017

The cause of a train derailment that happened in downtown Suffolk just before 7 a.m. Saturday is still under investigation, a Norfolk Southern spokeswoman said early Saturday afternoon.

The eastbound train included two locomotives pulling 161 rail cars, all filled with coal heading to Norfolk for export, said Susan Terpay, director of public relations for Norfolk Southern.

She said about 44 of the cars derailed.

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Joann Greene lives on Wellons Street near the tracks. She said she thought it was an earthquake when the derailment woke her up.

“It woke all of us up,” she said, sweeping her hand at her neighbors’ houses. “Everything shook. When I got outside, all I could see was smoke and sparks.”

No injuries have been reported from the derailment. A warehouse building on the Golden Peanut property was damaged by coal that spilled from the train, city spokeswoman Diana Klink said. A residence and a vehicle on Wellons Street also had broken windows from coal debris.

A number of crossings in the downtown area were closed throughout the morning, including East Washington Street at County Street, Pinner Street and Liberty Street.

Terpay said the cleanup process will be extensive.

“The process that we’re going through right now is we’ve brought in cranes to lift the rail cars off the tracks, and we’ve brought in excavators and other equipment to recover the coal,” she said. “The coal will be put into rail cars and trucks, then we will begin the process of rebuilding the track.”

She said all of the affected crossings will also be inspected for damage. There is so far no way to know when trains will begin running again. There are two Norfolk Southern tracks through downtown adjacent to one another, and both are impacted, Terpay said.

“We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused in Suffolk, and we want to thank the Suffolk Police Department for their assistance,” she said.

Klink said the city’s traffic engineering division has shut off the traffic signal at East Washington and Pinner streets, and the stop is being controlled by signage.

No injuries have been reported in the wake of the derailment.