On Friday, November 30, 2012, at 6:52 a.m. eastern standard time, southbound
Consolidated Rail Corporation freight train FC4230, arrived and stopped on the
main track at the Paulsboro moveable bridge near milepost 13.7 on the
Consolidated Rail Corporation Penns Grove Secondary Subdivision in Paulsboro,
New Jersey. A red signal aspect was displayed and did not change to green when
the radio signal command was executed by the train crew, indicating that the
bridge was not prepared for train movement. One of two conditions were required
before the train could safety begin movement over the bridge: (1) Signal aspect
changed to green, indicating that the running rails were aligned and locked to
the fixed track and both ends of the bridge, or (2) The bridge was visually
inspected by a qualified employee to ascertain that the running rails were
aligned and locked to the fixed track at both ends of the bridge and permission
was granted by the train dispatcher for the train to pass the red signal.
Despite multiple attempts by the train crew to remotely execute a radio
signal command to align and lock the bridge, the signal aspect remained red and
did not turn green. The conductor inspected the bridge and erroneously concluded
it was properly locked to prevent movement. The engineer informed the dispatcher
of the conductor's findings. The dispatcher then gave permission for the train
to pass the red signal aspect and cross the bridge, as allowed by Consolidated
Rail Corporation operating rules and procedures.
About 7:02 a.m., as the train traveled over the bridge, 7 cars derailed, the
6th through the 12th cars. Physical evidence indicated that the swing span
locking mechanism was not engaged at the east end of the bridge. The bridge span
rotated under the moving train, misaligned the running rails, and caused the
train to derail. The bridge was structurally sound and did not collapse. Four
tank cars that derailed on the bridge came to rest partially in Mantua Creek.
Three of the derailed tank cars that entered the creek contained vinyl chloride
and one contained ethanol. One tank car was breached and released about 20,000
gallons of vinyl chloride. Eyewitnesses reported a vapor cloud engulfed the
scene immediately following the accident.
On the day of the accident, 28 area residents sought medical attention for
possible vinyl chloride exposure. The train crew and numerous emergency
responders were also exposed to vinyl chloride.
Equipment damage estimates were $451,000. The emergency response and
remediation costs totaled about $30 million.