First responders learn how to handle train emergencies

Norfolk Southern's safety train stops in Roanoke

By Jessica Jewell - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - Dozens of first responders from across the Roanoke Valley came together Wednesday to learn what to do in the event of an emergency involving a train.

Three years ago, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, bursting into flames and sending three cars into the James River. That prompted calls for improved rail safety.

Wednesday, efforts to do just that came to Roanoke.

"We transport these hazardous materials in a very safe manner, 99.9 percent of all hazardous materials... get from origin to destination without an incident," Norfolk Southern Hazardous Materials Regional Manager Paul Williams said.

Williams said he wants first responders in the Roanoke Valley to be prepared in case something does happen. That’s why Norfolk Southern’s safety train made its first stop in Roanoke.

"We train them on railroad safety and some of the things you might find in responding to a rail environment, which is different from what they normally encounter on the highway or in the structural fire. We talk to them about some of the issues responding to fires on locomotives or tank car issues," Williams said.

Twenty to 25 trains typically move through the Star City every day.

“Roanoke is one of our major intersections for traffic north and south and east and west and then we get a lot of hazmat through here,” Williams said.

First responders say there are plenty of issues on the tracks.

“We’ve had everything from locomotive fires to minor derailments within the city that we responded to; we had incidents with tank cars where someone inhaled toxins,” Roanoke Fire-EMS Captain Jim Cady said.

That's why this training is so important.

There are “a lot of unique hazards involved with the rail line and operating within the vicinity of their equipment,” Cady said.

Norfolk Southern’s safety train stops in other cities to train first responders. The company hopes to train 5,500 by the end of this year.

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