No one was injured when 12 coal cars on a 129-car train derailed at the the River Road railroad crossing in Nisbet about 2:50 p.m. Sunday, according to Nisbet Fire Chief James Pfleegor.
Four of the cars upset, he said.
Less than 100 yards away, the Steppe family was holding a family reunion at a pavilion at the Susquehanna Township community park.
PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette
A dozen coal cars derailed Sunday afternoon at the River Road railroad crossing in Nisbet about 2:50 p.m. Sunday. No one was injured. The Norfolk Southern Corp., which owns the tracks, had moved heavy equipment to the scene by Sunday night to help with the extensive cleanup operation.
PHILIP A. HOLMES/Sun-Gazette
Coal is strewn across the tracks from three of the four toppled rail cars. Emergency responders were grateful that the 129-car train wasn’t carrying something volatile or more hazardous than its load of coal nuggets bound for the PPL plant at Strawberry Ridge in Montour County.
"Everyone heard this screeching. You knew something wasn't right," Avis resident Sonya Kellogg, one of those at the reunion, said in describing the derailment.
"There was this real loud noise. We all heard it. There was a lot of dust and then the train just stopped. There was nothing," said Darlene, who also attended the reunion. The Loyalsock Township woman declined to give her last name.
"You could see the dust flying, but that's it," she added.
Wyatt Steppe, a 14-year-old eighth-grade student at Loyalsock Township Middle School, said he heard "a clicking sound. It just sounded like the wheels were going off the tracks."
Another reunion attendee, Jake Shipman, also heard the "clicking sound"
"It was click, click, click, click. It was continuous. It just didn't sound right. The brakes started screeching and then all of a sudden the dirt and dust started flying," Shipman, another Loyalsock Township resident, said.
He saw at least one of the coal cars tip over.
Pfleegor said he was told that the Norfolk Southern train engineer continued a short distance down the tracks, unaware of the derailment until "the train's air brake pressure dropped suddenly, activating an emergency light and an alarm."
Norfolk Southern had a team of investigators from Northumberland on the scene soon after the accident.
The train was traveling from Altoona to PPL's Strawberry Ridge power plant, Pfleegor said. While Norfolk Southern owns the tracks and the two people on the train are employees of the company, Pfleegor said he believed the rail cars are owned by PPL.
Pfleegor said the railroad company brought special equipment to the scene Sunday night to start the extensive cleanup operation. The clean-up could take at least two to three days, and River Road will remain closed until the damaged cars are removed and the track at the railroad crossing is repaired, Pfleegor said.
"At least two of the 12 derailed cars were destroyed. The bottoms of some of the cars were torn right off during the derailment," Pfleegor said.
No damage estimate was available Sunday night, and the cause of the wreck was under investigation.
After inspecting the crash scene, Pfleegor said it was possible that the derailment might have been caused by a track or train wheel failure.
Pfleeger said emergency responders were thankful that the train was not pulling any hazardous materials.