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Accident Report Detail

Derailment of St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company (Cotton Belt) Freight Train Extra 4835 North and Release of Hazardous Materials

Executive Summary

About 1:33 p.m., c.d.t. on June 9, 1985, St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company (Cotton Belt) freight train Extra 4835 North derailed while passing over a ballast-deck pile trestle located about 3.3 miles southwest of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Eighteen of the 42 derailed cars were loaded tank cars, and 14 of these cars contained regulated hazardous or toxic chemical commodities; 4 others contained non-regulated flammable petroleum and liquid plastics products. Fire broke out in the wreckage, and smoke and toxic gasses were released into the atmosphere. Two tank cars which were subjected to intense thermal exposure exploded but did not rocket. More than 2,800 persons were evacuated from within a 1-mile radius of the derailment site. property damage was reported to be more than $4 million.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable causes of this accident were (1) the failure of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company to destress and adequately anchor the track to retard longitudinal movement at Bridge 272.14 as required by its rules, after disturbing the track in hot weather; and (2) the excessive speed and consequential heavy braking of Extra 4835 North on a downgrade approaching the accident location, which compounded the longitudinal stresses imposed on the track structure by heat. Contributing to the accident was the St. Louis Southwestern Railway's failure to adequately enforce the speed restrictions imposed on trains operating over its Pine Bluff sub-division.

Lessening the severity of the accident were (1) an extraordinarily timely and effective response by the Cotton Belt and local fire and police forces attributable to training and planning previously conducted under the auspices of the railroad and local emergency organizations, and (2) the presence of top and bottom shelf couplers, jacketed insulation and head shielding which absorbed the effects of impact on tank cars carrying hazardous materials.

Accident Location: Pine Bluff , AR    
Accident Date: 6/9/1985
Accident ID: DCA85RM007

Date Adopted: 10/7/1986
NTSB Number: RAR-86-04
NTIS Number: PB86-916305

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