July 23, 2007
WATERTOWN, N.Y. - The Associated Press reported this afternoon that two flatcars carrying military equipment from Fort Drum rolled about eight miles today before crashing into CSX work equipment and derailing, authorities said.
The CSX work crew had just received permission to occupy the tracks when the cars, coasting downhill, rolled into them. One CSX worker suffered a sprained ankle while escaping the collision. The cars derailed just after 9 a.m., forcing the temporary closure of nearby Interstate 81. Businesses and homes within a half-mile area were evacuated for about two hours as a precaution.
"It's a miracle this wasn't more serious," Watertown Fire Chief Daniel Gaumont told the AP. "It's downhill from Fort Drum ... we believe these cars were going 40-45 mph."
The train originated at Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). Fort Drum spokesman Ben Abel told AP that the two flat cars rolled away after 1st Brigade Combat Team soldiers finished loading them with equipment bound for the Port of Philadelphia, and eventually Iraq. The 3,500-soldier brigade is scheduled to begin a 15-month deployment in September. Army officials are investigating why the cars broke free and rolled away, Abel said. He could not immediately say what they were carrying, but Fire Chief Gaumont said a placard cautioned that the contents included "flammable liquids, oxidizers, and explosives." Army officials had notified local authorities, who were searching for the runaway cars when the accident was reported, Gaumont said.
The collision caused the explosion of a 1,500-gallon propane tank stored on a CSX vehicle, igniting a small fire. Firefighters allowed the fire to burn itself out. Hazardous materials teams from Watertown and surrounding communities were called to the scene because authorities were uncertain what substances they were dealing with. The Fort Drum Mobile Incident Command Center also was sent to the scene.