GREENFIELD — Last week, emergency responders gathered to plan how they’d handle a fiery train derailment.
Wednesday morning (9/24), responders found themselves faced with something less dangerous but real — when a freight train derailed on a stretch of tracks just near Hope Street.
But this time, in real life, there was no fire, no hazard and no injuries.
According to Cynthia Scarano, the executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, the derailment occurred around 7:45 a.m. By 9 a.m., railroad workers were on the scene assessing the situation.
Scarano said nine of the train’s 56 cars derailed and two of the locomotives had “wheels off the tracks.” None fell over.
Greenfield Fire Lieutenant Peter McIver said two of the cars involved had ended up sitting sideways across the tracks and the rest had only gone off the rails. All of the cars remained upright, he said.
Scarano said the cars were carrying paper manufacturing products and lumber.
According to McIver and Scarano, none of the cargo spilled, and none of the cars contained any hazardous materials.
“There were no liquids, no hazardous materials. It was all paper and cardboard products,” said McIver. “There were small fires reported off the tracks, but none were found.”
As of noon, Scarano said Pan Am employees were still analyzing the situation and would be devising a plan to re-rail the cars as soon as possible. She estimated it would take about a day to complete the task.
Scarano said Pan Am has not determined the cause of the accident, but would be downloading the “black box” data recorders and looking at the cars and tracks.
According to Scarano, the tracks that the derailment occurred on are only used for freight, and will not be part of a series of upgrades that are being carried out on other area tracks to accommodate Amtrak’s new high-speed passenger trains.
Though no hazardous materials were released in this particular incident, trains regularly transport all types of products along area railways, from regular household products to heating oil, ethanol, propane.
“It’s one of the largest methods of shipping in the United States,” said Turners Falls Fire Chief and Montague Emergency Management Director Robert J. Escott, who participated in the training exercise last week and noted the coincidence.
Escott said local emergency service organizations are constantly training and preparing to deal with any situation where a derailment could release toxic materials.
To alert the public to a dangerous incident or order an evacuation, Montague and Greenfield, as well as other county towns, use an auto-dialing phone system to send recorded messages to people living in a targeted geographic area. The systems send the messages primarily to house phones, but residents can sign up for deeper alerts in the form of text messages and emails.