Though commuter train derailment directly causes human casualties like we saw in Washington on Monday, Chemung County officials say that a derailment in the Twin Tiers could be just as devastating.

That’s because the freight trains that travel through the region are often carrying hazardous materials.
“Just the sheer magnitude of the cars, the rail cars and what they could possibly be holding,” Deputy Director of Chemung County Fire and Emergency Management Kristin Card said. “You have a large amount of hazardous material.”

Another concern Card mentioned: the track’s proximity to roads and homes.
“So you could have a train derail you know possibly involve structure or involve automobiles so our immediate response would be life safety,” she said.

In that case an alert would be sent out via the county’s emergency management app, or via the National Weather Service.

As for who for inspects and maintains the tracks, Card said that’s Norfolk Southern’s responsibility.

A representative from the company said they inspect most key routes at least twice a week, and even more frequently during extreme weather. He said crews just installed fresh rock ballast on the rail bed this fall to ensure proper rail elevation and alignment. He also said crews installed approximately 6,000 feet of new rail this past summer. 

Card said it’s more likely that people will cause incidents, rather than the locomotive itself.
“There’s been a lot of incidents across the country where people you know they think they have to pull right up to those arms to come down and then they’ll get rear-ended and it actually forces their car – there’s been several incidents where it forces the car and it ends up getting lodged in the train and it just drags the car right down the track with them,” she said.

Though nothing like what we saw in Washington has happened locally:
“But it certainly always something that’s in our mind and it something that we’ve always planned for,” Card said.

Card said the county is now finalizing an emergency management app for tablets, that’s expected to roll out after the New Year.