Twenty-Six Rail Cars Quit Tracks Near Start, Gas Evacuates Town
Monroe Morning World, Monday, December 1, 1969
By Deidre Cruse, World Staff Writer
Three railroad cars carrying toxic chlorine gas posed a threat to the area Sunday when an Illinois Central train derailed at Start. Late Sunday, crews had uprighted one of the cars but will mobilize the three tanks this morning.
No leakage of the deadly gas was detected, although there was damage to the outer layer of one of the tanks, officials said. No injuries were reported in connection with the accident.
About 200 people in a one-mile radius of Start were evacuated as a precautionary measure by the Richland Parish Sheriff’s Department, a department official reported. Start High School will be closed until the evacuation is lifted, its principal said Sunday night.
The derailment occurred about 12:15 a.m. Sunday when a pulpwood car left the track causing 26 of the train’s 109 cars to crash onto the right-of-way. The cars, part of Extra 9114 West en route to Shreveport derailed near the intersection of LA 133 and LA 33 about half a mile from U.S. 80.
A official on the scene said it was fortunate the tanks were small ones. “If they had been big they probably would have burst,” he said.
Cause of the derailment has not been definitely determined, but an IC spokesman said “it probably has something to do with a wheel bearing.
“A wheel bearing could have gotten hot and burned off,” he said. “We’ll have to sort out the wreckage and analyze.”
Crews worked all day Sunday clearing the train wreckage and preparing the track so the chlorine cars could be moved. Seven bulldozer and two cranes were used for the operation.
Seven employees of Southwest Potash Corp. of Vicksburg, Miss. which owned the chlorine, took safety equipment to the scene. Also assisting were Union Carbide officials.
After dusk crews began entire new sections of track, so the one 200-ton capacity crane could get close enough to the tanks to lift them onto “trucks” or the wheels the tanks the travel on.
When the tanks are mobile again they will be put on a “hospital train,” a slow-moving unit, and taken back to Vicksburg to be placed in new tanks, an official said. Some of the cars will still be at the scene today, the IC spokesman said.
Total damage caused by the wreck has not been completely calculated either, the IC spokesman said. IC listed preliminary estimates as more than $11,000 damage to equipment and several thousand dollars damage.
Twenty of the 26 cars wrecked were carrying loads, including several military vehicles. The spokesman said damage to the loads will have to be established by insurance appraisers.
Also as a result of the derailment, telephone lines to Delhi were down. Telephone crews had begun running an underground line around the wreck site.
The train wreck was the second this year involving chlorine gas. Earlier this year, Logansport had to be evacuated because of a similar situation.
The parish sheriff’s department stood by all day at the scene, after they notified residents of the danger. Most people evacuated before dawn and went to stay with relatives and friends while the chlorine was moved.
Fifth District Hwy. Commissioner James W. Moore said Sunday that I-20 is open to traffic, but U.S. 80 between Milhaven Road and Rayville is closed until the gas is moved. The connection of LA 133 between I-20 and Start is also closed, he said.
“Everything going east from here will have to go on I-20 until the emergency is over,” Moore said. It was estimated the emergency would end before noon today.
However, the threat of danger was minimized. A Southwest Potash Corp. employee said the tank carrying the gas had an eight-inch jacket of insulation, the lining of the tank itself and the containers carrying the chlorine.
A good Lick
“It would have taken a pretty good lick (to rupture the tank),” the employee said.
The IC spokesman said the gas liquified, under pressure and was nonflammable
Even if there had been a puncture, the spokesman said, the danger to the area might not have been great. “Chlorine gas has a tendency to auto-refrigerate – it cools itself off. Even if the tank had a hole in it, it would have filled up with solidified gas,” he said.
Chlorine is used as a water purifier and in many products is “fatal depending on the concentration,” he said.
The IC representative also speculated on other possible causes for the wreck: “The coupling could have broken or a rail could have been broken.
“We’ll have to sift through all the debris to find out,” he said.
U.S. 80 and I-20 were closed down immediately after the accident, but I-20 was reopened by 8:30.
IC closed down most of its regular runs, which run over the track to go between Meridian, Miss. The only detours made were for mail runs from Rayville to Collinston to Monroe. Mail runs were shifted to the Missouri Pacific track and were reported to be running near schedule.