By Ted Waddell
SHOHOLA, PA October 18, 2005 "It was like watching a movie, it was exactly like that!" said Cynthia "Cindy" Dilger of Bee Hollow Road, an eyewitness to last Thursday afternoon's train derailment that stretched along several miles of track between Shohola and Pond Eddy in Pike County, Pa.
"I heard a loud bang from up the tracks and then the screaming of the brakes," said Dilger whose house is located a few hundred feet from one of the derailment sites.
"The front two of about seven cars catapulted up in the air and then came down sideways in the field, and the third car came down of top of those two," she added.
"It was exactly like in the movies so they crash in real life, too!"
A few minutes after noon on Thursday, the calls went out to emergency personnel on both sides of the Delaware River that several sections of a 120-car New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway freight train had derailed at at least three locations before the engineer apparently realized something was amiss and stopped the engines reportedly about two miles from the first derailment that left at least nine cars and related debris scattered along the railbed.
Officials responded to worst case scenario, as the freight train was transporting petroleum products in addition to other cargo such as flour and construction site waste.
No injuries were reported, and no petro-chemical cars were involved in the derailment.
Several local fire departments and the National Park Service launched water rescue boats, as Dan Wall, chief of the Shohola Fire Department, geared up for a possible river evacuation of residents living between the river and the tracks.
The Lackawaxen Fire Department river rescue boat capsized during the emergency response, spilling its crew into the cold, raging waters of a river risen to near flood stage due to recent heavy rains.
The firefighters were rescued and the boat later recovered downstream.
According to published reports, Wall said the conductor didn't have the manifest of the train's cargo as required by federal law, and when authorities contacted the engineer, he wouldn't hand it over to emergency personnel, only permitting them to look at it while in his possession.
Incensed at this reaction, Wall said later that emergency officials had a right to know what was on the train.
"Thank God there were no hazardous materials," he added standing with a small group of firefighters and police next to the wrecked freight cars along the tracks at Bee Hollow Road.
"It could have been a whole lot worse. . . . They say it's basically because of the weather and slippery tracks. . . . We're pretty lucky."
Responding emergency units included Shohola, Sparrowbush, Lumberland, Milford, Greeley, Lackawaxen, the National Park Service (NPS), Sullivan County HazMat and local EMS and police.
"The main part of the train continued for about two miles before they stopped. . . . The derailment started at Car #79," said Richard Martinkovic, Sullivan County's Director of Emergency Management, in the wake of a meeting at the incident command center (ICC).
According to published reports including the Associated Press, the Cooperstown-based railroad has had at least two other derailments in the past four years: in June 2001, a train carrying liquid propane derailed approximately 40 miles south of Syracuse, and on April 22, 2005, eight cars of an 80-car train jumped the tracks off an overpass onto a downtown sidewalk in Binghamton, shutting down traffic for hours.
In addition, New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway was fined $2.5 million in July by New Jersey state officials for air and solid waste pollution at five open-air waste transfer stations.
According to authorities, the recent freight train derailment is still under investigation.