Vice Chairman Hart

Acting Chairman Christopher A. Hart
Board Meeting Opening Statement
Train Derailment and Hazardous Materials Release
Paulsboro, New Jersey
November 30, 2012
Washington, DC — July 29, 2014


Good morning. Welcome to the Board Room of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Acting Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board Members: Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind and Member Earl Weener. I would also like to recognize the excellent work of then-NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, who served as the Board Member on-scene, as well as our entire investigative team, on this accident.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider for the first time the report on the freight train derailment and hazardous materials release in Paulsboro, New Jersey on November 30, 2012.

That morning, a Conrail freight train stopped at a red signal before reaching a moveable bridge that spanned Mantua Creek.

The crew made several attempts to get the signal to turn green. When they were unsuccessful, they requested, and received, permission from the Conrail train dispatcher to proceed past the red signal and over the bridge.

But the signal was red because the bridge had malfunctioned and was not locked in place. As the train crossed it, seven cars derailed, including five hazardous-materials tank cars. Four tank cars tumbled into the creek. One was punctured, and released 20,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, a flammable liquefied gas and a known carcinogen.

A white vapor cloud engulfed the scene, clinging to the creek and the surrounding area. Twenty-eight residents sought medical treatment. As many as 680 were evacuated. The train crew and emergency responders were also exposed to the vinyl chloride vapor.

Property damage exceeded $400,000. Emergency response and remediation costs totaled about $30 million.

The report that we consider today is the product of an investigation that included an investigative hearing on July 9 and 10, 2013. This report provides a detailed account of the accident sequence that unfolded on November 30, 2012.

But earlier lapses had set the stage. These were just as important for us to discover in order to understand why this train, consisting primarily of cars containing hazardous materials, proceeded across a moveable bridge that was not locked in place.

We learned how Conrail trained its crewmembers to determine whether a moveable bridge was safe. We learned about other Conrail policies and procedures at the time of the accident. We learned about earlier incidents on this very bridge that might have served as warnings, had they been heeded.

And, we learned about the emergency response to the derailment and release. In turn, this led us to ask how the state of New Jersey approves local Emergency Operations Plans, and to what extent railroads contribute to emergency preparedness along hazardous materials routes.

Every day, railroads move enormous volumes of hazardous materials without incident. Today's world would be unrecognizable without these materials, because of their role in the manufacture of so many staples of modern life.

Preventing releases of hazardous materials, and other accidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials, requires system-wide management of safety concerns, starting at the top.

And if any release does occur, local emergency responders must take effective action to protect the community and themselves.

To do so, they must have access to the fullest possible range of hazard communications. They must be armed with knowledge of the hazards that they are likely to face. And they must follow the best available guidance during such events.

This release exposed emergency responders, the train crew, and many of the residents of Paulsboro to a toxic flammable chemical that can cause lasting health effects.

The report that we consider today has determined the probable cause of, and the factors that contributed to, this derailment and release. It may yet remain for others to document, over time, its full toll. Now Managing Director Mayer will attend to some housekeeping and introduce the staff.

Managing Director Mayer.