By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Plastic microbeads and giant rolls of fiberboard littered the rural railroad right-of-way when six cars of an eastbound CSX Transportation freight train derailed July 11 between the Canoe and Wawbeek communities.
The derailment, which wasn’t discovered by the train’s engineer until county lawmen caught up with and stopped the locomotive near Old Atmore Road, forced the closure of U.S. 31 for about 24 hours as crews worked to right three overturned railcars and set the three that remained upright back onto the tracks.
According to sources close to the investigation, the half-dozen rail units — reportedly four hoppers of plastic beads and two boxcars of fiberboard — jumped the tracks when the train slowed for a downhill run into Flomaton.
The tiny plastic beads are used in sunscreen and in several cosmetics products, including makeup, hair spray and lipstick.
The length of the train apparently prevented the discovery of the derailment, which was reportedly caused when three empty cars “threw a whip” and sent the six cars behind them tumbling from the rails.
According to published reports, the train consisted of more than 300 units and was about two miles long. The cars that leapt off the tracks were reportedly positioned in about the middle of the train, and the multiple locomotives reportedly continued straining to pull them until the train crew was made aware of the extent of the problem.
The conductor reportedly told local officials that he had received a call from CSX’s home office in Jacksonville, Fla., reporting that computers were showing that the train had “gone into emergency” mode, but he was unaware of what triggered the computer message.
“The engineer had no idea, since the train was so long, that the cars had derailed,” the source said. “It was a mess.”
Residents of the immediate area, as well as many in the Robinsonville community, reportedly experienced a brief power outage as electricity was shut off while one of the cars was moved from beneath power lines.
Northbound U.S. 31 traffic was diverted onto Alabama 21, then to Interstate 65, while those headed south were rerouted to I-65 via Alabama 113 until the spillage could be cleaned up. The highway was closed between Cow Pen Creek Road and Sardis Church Road immediately after the accident, and it remained closed until late afternoon on July 12.
News photos by Ditto Gorme