Menendez, Booker: NTSB Paulsboro Crash Findings Highlight Need for Critical Rail Upgrades

Menendez, Booker: NTSB Paulsboro Crash Findings Highlight Need for Critical Rail Upgrades

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) today praised the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for its thorough investigation into the cause of the 2012 Conrail freight train derailment and toxic chemical spill in Paulsboro, N.J. The NTSB determined that the cause of the accident was Conrail allowing its train to proceed across a moveable swing bridge when it was not fully locked, and reliance on an inadequate training program.

"I'm deeply troubled by the NTSB report's findings. It is clear that Conrail missed red flags when their obsolete bridge malfunctioned repeatedly in the days before the accident; they ignored an expert recommendation to close the bridge; they tasked their train crews with making judgment calls about bridge safety rather than fixing the infrastructure; and they withheld critical information from emergency responders who put their lives on the line to protect the community," said Senator Menendez. "Conrail's actions endangered the train crew, the local residents, and the first responders, many of whom have lingering questions about the long-term health consequences they may face. New Jersey residents deserve better from the industries that operate in our state. I am closely reviewing the NTSB's recommendations to determine the legislative steps needed to better protect New Jersey communities and prevent these types of accidents."

"The Board's report makes clear this horrific accident could have been prevented had Conrail heeded the rail signal warnings," Sen. Booker said. "With dangerous substances and high volumes of freight regularly travelling through the state, safety must be paramount. Accidents involving toxic chemicals, like the Paulsboro incident, can have serious long-term health and safety implications. We were fortunate there were no fatalities during the Paulsboro accident, but next time we might not be so lucky. I will work with my colleagues on the Commerce Committee to fight for improved safety policies on our rails and roadways."

Today, the NTSB issued its final report culminating from a months-long investigation into the Conrail freight train derailment and hazardous materials release in Paulsboro. The report found that Conrail improperly allowed a train to cross the moveable swing bridge in Paulsboro when it was not fully closed and secured. It also found that Conrail relied on an inadequate training program to help its employees safely cross the bridge.

The NTSB issued 20 safety recommendations to a series of stakeholders, including Conrail, the State of New Jersey, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association; the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Volunteer Fire Council.

The derailment occurred in the early morning of November 30, 2012 on a moveable swing bridge over Mantua Creek in Paulsboro. As a southbound Conrail train crossed the bridge, seven of the train's 82 cars derailed. Four cars-one containing ethanol and three containing vinyl chloride-fell into the creek below. One of these cars was breached, releasing approximately 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the creek and the surrounding area. No fatalities occurred as a result of the accident; a number of first responders and local residents were treated for possible vinyl chloride exposure.

Vinyl chloride is used primarily in the production of PVC plastic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, short-term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride can lead to central nervous system impacts including as dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches. Vinyl chloride exposure has been shown to increase the risk of a rare form of liver cancer, and EPA has classified the toxic chemical as a human carcinogen.