Cleanup of Sheffield Train Crash Underway

Apr 10, 2013

Construction debris was dumped out of train cars after an accident in Sheffield early Tuesday morning.
Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

A train carrying construction debris derailed Tuesday morning in the Berkshire County town of Sheffield.

Train cars that derailed on tracks owned by the Housatonic Railroad toppled over around 1:15 am on Tuesday and are now being cleared by the railroad company, according to Sheffield police chief Eric Munson.

“They were pretty much in assessment phase yesterday,” said Munson. “They started bringing in their heavy equipment early this morning and their estimate is two to three days before all the debris is removed and the trains are uprighted and the tracks are repaired.”

According to Munson, traffic was reopened at the railroad crossing on Lime Kiln road in Sheffield, where the accident occurred, by 7:30 am Tuesday.

Nobody was injured in the crash. The Berkshire Eagle reports the crash was caused by a broken rail. Six cars toppled over and spread their contents, mainly construction debris including fiber glass insulation, and other building materials, across the tracks.

Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

Chief Munson said that debris does not pose an environmental hazard, and that the crash is not located near any residential buildings or the Housatonic River.

“It’s in the Housatonic River basin but it’s probably a quarter mile from the river itself,” said Munson. “It’s an industrial/farming area if anything.”

The accident marks the second derailment on tracks owned by the Housatonic Railroad in a month. On March 15th, a train derailed in Lee. Four cars also carrying construction debris went off the rails near a former paper mill along the Housatonic River on Columbia Street.

Nat Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said that the stretch of tracks where the two accidents occurred is an important artery for companies that provide employment to workers in Berkshire County and Northwestern Connecticut.

“Collectively we’re talking about hundreds of jobs in the region served by that railroad that are at risk,” said Karns.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission had previously worked with the Northwest Connecticut Council of Governments on a federal grant application with the U.S. Department of Transportation to replace several sections of rail along the tracks including in Sheffield, but was successful.

Karns said that recent accidents show the need to replace Berkshire rail infrastructure, like the tracks in Sheffield,  which he claims are several decades old.  

“It’s old short-segment pieces of track,” said Karns. “My understanding is that the forging process when the track was made is entirely different now than it was a hundred years ago, and iron gets brittle.”

A representative for the Housatonic Railroad did not return a call for comment in time for broadcast.