Train derails in Blounts Creek area

Published 7:02 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2019

BLOUNTS CREEK — An early-morning train derailment in the Blounts Creek area on New Years Day left no injuries and no danger to public or environmental health, according to representatives from Beaufort County Emergency Services.

A total of 12 tanker cars on the 96-car CSX train went off the tracks around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. All of the derailed cars were carrying molten sulfur bound for Nutrien in Aurora. Norfolk Southern, the company that owns the railway, estimates that 1,000 gallons of the chemical was released as a result of the derailment.

An active ingredient in the sulfuric acid used in Nutrien’s mining operations, Beaufort County Fire and Operations Chief Chris Newkirk says that in its molten form, sulfur is a fairly inert chemical.

CLEANUP: A backhoe operator digs debris from a puddle alongside the train tracks. A derailed tanker car lies in the background.

“It’s probably one of the safer things that could have overturned,” Newkirk said. “Different rail cars are designed to meet the hazards they contain. In this case, the design of the rail cars did their job. We did have one punctured car, but the puncture was small and the leak was contained. It dribbled out off the car before it hardened.”

Norfolk Southern and CSX staff continued to work on scene Wednesday, with a priority of repairing the tracks after the incident. As of noon, five of the derailed cars had been moved back onto the tracks and relocated from the scene. Norfolk Southern estimated that rail operations would resume by Wednesday evening.

“NS will complete environmental remediation operations, which will involve removing the hardened sulfur from the soil and replacing with new soil,” an update from the company stated. “The product in the remaining cars will be transferred to other rail cars.”

HEAVY MACHINERY: A crew works with a piece of specialized machinery to level the area around a stretch of newly-replaced tracks. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

Due to its chemical composition, molten sulfur hardens when not heated, a process that had already begun by the time the train derailed. Newkirk says crews were able to quickly extinguish a small, smoldering fire inside one of the containers without incident. Although EMS units responded to the scene, there were no injuries.

“There was no threat to the community or environment from the onset,” Newkirk said.

Agencies responding to the incident included Blounts Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Aurora VFD, Chocowinity Fire and EMS, Little Swift Creek VFD (of Pamlico County), Beaufort County EMS, Beaufort County Emergency Services, the N.C. Highway Patrol, and two hazardous materials units, one from Nutrien and the other from Williamston. The cause of the derailment is currently under investigation.